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foreword bv 



Sakyong Mipham 

New York 

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Traditional verses on p. 213 translated by the Nalanda 
Translation Committee. Used by permission. 

Copyright © 2003 by Mipham J. Mukpo 
Cover design by Aliza Dzik 
Book design by Jennifer Ann Daddio 

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First Riverhead hardcover edition: January 2003 
First Riverhead trade paperback edition: January 2004 
Riverhead trade paperback ISBN: 1-57322-345-X 

The Library of Congress has catalogued the Riverhead 
hardcover edition as follows: 

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, date. 
Turning the mind into an ally / Sakyong Mipham. 
p. cm. 
ISBN 1-57322-206-2 
1. Meditation — Buddhism. 2. Spiritual life — 

Buddhism. I. Title 
BQ5612 ,S24 2003 2002067961 

Printed in the United States of America 

in q 8 7 f. fi 4 

To my father and mother, 



I am grateful to the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa 
Rinpoche — my father, my teacher, and my best friend; 
His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche for guiding 
and inspiring me through challenging times; His Holi- 
ness Penor Rinpoche for his total support and bless- 
ings; Khenpo Namdrol for his teaching and wisdom; 
and Lama Pegyal, Loppon Rechung, and Loppon 
Gawang for their support and enthusiasm. Thanks to 
David Schneider for his original encouragement; 
Samuel Bercholz and Jonathan Green for their advice; 
Joe Spieler for helping me in the process; Amy Hertz 
for her vision, energy, and patience; and Pema Cho- 
dron for her foreword. For their friendship and sup- 
port, thanks to Lucas Dayley, Molly McCue, Judith 
Outlaw, and Rose Taylor. I also extend appreciation to 

all the people who have transcribed and edited my 
talks over the years. 

For their generosity and daring, I thank Mark But- 
ler, Wells Christie, Jeff Cohn and Jane Carpenter 
Cohn, Neal Greenberg, James and Sharon Hoagland, 
and in particular, Amy Bajakian, who offered me her 
home to work in whenever I wanted to. I appreciate the 
personal support of Douglas Anderson, Barry Boyce, 
David Brown, Dinah Brown, David Cook, Susan 
Dreier, David Ellerton, Jesse Grimes, Richard Hart- 
man, Kevin Hoagland, Noel McLellan, Joe Mauricio, 
John Sennhauser, Ken Sussman, and Mark Thorpe. 

Most of all, I want to thank Emily Bower and Eliz- 
abeth Monson for their tireless, endless hours of help- 
ing; Mark Matousek for his good intention and hard 
work; Jules Levinson for his advice, insight, continu- 
ous support, and encouragement; and Adam Lobel for 
his encouragement and enthusiasm. For auspicious 
coincidence, my gratitude to Emily Hilburn Sell. We 
met at the right time in the right place, and without this 
connection the book would not have materialized. 


Foreword by Pema Chodron xi 

Preface xvii 



1. The Rock and the Flower 3 

2. Bewilderment and Suffering 9 

3. Peaceful Abiding 24 



4. Taking Our Seat 37 

5. Mindfulness and Awareness 49 

6. How to Gather a Scattered Mind 58 

7. The Virtues of Boredom 76 

8. Laziness 84 

9. Forgetting the Instructions 102 

10. Not Too Tight, Not Too Loose 106 

1 1 . Nine Stages of Training the Mind 114 



12. Turning the Mind 129 

13. The Joy of Being Human 138 

14. The Unchanging Truth of Change 146 

15. First We Get Old 151 

16. And Then We Die 154 

17. Samsara and Karma 158 

18. Jumping into the Heart of the Buddha 163 



19. Rousing Motivation 179 

20. Wisdom and Emptiness 187 

21. Warrior in the World 197 


A. Preparing to Practice 215 

B. The Posture of Meditation 225 

C. Instructions for Contemplative Meditation 227 

Resources 229 


I first met Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche years ago in 
Boulder, Colorado, through his father, my teacher 
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He and the Sakyong's 
mother, Lady Kunchok Palden, were among the sur- 
vivors of a refugee group that had narrowly escaped 
from Tibet to India in 1959. Trungpa Rinpoche, who 
had been the supreme abbot of the Surmang monaster- 
ies, was descended from the warrior king Gesar, a his- 
torical figure who is a pivotal source of the Shambhala 
teachings. Before Sakyong Mipham was born, his 
father predicted that he would be a very special child, 
that his early years would be difficult, and that he 
would emerge as a great teacher. He then requested 
that Lady Kunchok bless their unborn son by making a 
pilgrimage to all the sacred Buddhist sites throughout 
India. When she reached Bodhgaya, the place of 



the Buddha's enlightenment, the Sakyong apparently 
decided to arrive. He was born at this holiest of Bud- 
dhist sites in December 1962. 

During his earliest years, Sakyong Mipham lived 
with his mother in Tibetan refugee villages in north- 
west India. His father sent for him to join him in the 
West at the age of eight. When Sakyong Mipham was 
a teenager, I became his meditation instructor at 
Trungpa Rinpoche's request. Looking back, I realize 
that my teacher was purposely deepening my bond 
with his son. Every week I would meet with the Saky- 
ong to discuss his meditation. After only a few months, 
however, I realized that our roles had reversed. The 
young Sakyong was now instructing me. The relation- 
ship that was set in motion back then has only deep- 
ened over the years. At the same time, I've watched 
a somewhat reticent youth grow into a courageous, 
confident, and wise teacher who is of enormous benef it 
to his many students throughout the world. 

In 1979 Trungpa Rinpoche privately empowered 
the Sakyong as his heir and began to guide and instruct 
him even more closely than before. On a day shortly 
before this event, Rinpoche said to me, "You aren't 
going to make my son into a monk, are you? Because I 
have very different plans for him." 

These plans began to come to complete fruition 
after Trungpa Rinpoche died in 1987, when Sakyong 



Mipham took over leadership of his father's Sham- 
bhala Buddhist community. Later he was recognized 
by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche as the rebirth of the 
nineteenth-century meditation master and scholar 
Mipham Jamyang Gyatso, one of the most renowned 
teachers in Tibetan Buddhism. At the same time he was 
enthroned as the Sakyong ("earth protector"), head of 
the Shambhala lineage. 

After years of training with his father as well as 
undergoing a Western education, the Sakyong now 
returned to Asia to further deepen his meditation 
and studies under the tutelage of His Holiness Dilgo 
Khyentse Rinpoche and His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, 
two of the greatest Tibetan Buddhist masters. It is 
remarkable to me how natural it was for him to start to 
speak Tibetan again and to step back into the Tibetan 
way of thinking. One day I asked him how it was that 
his grasp of the most profound, often extremely diffi- 
cult Buddhist teachings came so easily to him. He said, 
"Well, it seems so familiar, as if I'm just remembering it 
all." He continues to travel to India every year. He says 
that he's never happier than when he's doing this study. 

Here we have a teacher with a remarkable ability 
to digest the traditional Tibetan Buddhist teachings 
thoroughly and completely and then present them in a 
way that speaks directly to the hearts and needs of 
Western people. Moreover, his enthusiasm for doing 



this is contagious. As one who is now completely at 
honie in both the Western and Tibetan mind-sets, he 
easily and spontaneously serves as a bridge. 

In 2001 Sakyong Mipham visited Tibet for the first 
time, where he was greeted by thousands of people, 
not only as the current Sakyong and the rebirth of 
Mipham, but also as living proof of the vitality of Bud- 
dhism, returning to the place that his father had left. 
Huge audiences gathered to hear his teachings. 

This book is the ideal next step in Sakyong 
Mipham's journey, as it introduces him to a world 
sorely in need of the traditional mind-training practices 
he presents. The beauty of his approach is that it joins 
two streams of teachings: Buddhism and Shambhala, a 
spiritual warriorship grounded in realization of basic 
goodness. Here Sakyong Mipham offers detailed in- 
structions for building a courageous mind through the 
practice of sitting meditation, the natural seat of the 
warrior bodhisattva. A skilled equestrian, he compares 
the whole process to taming a wild horse. He gener- 
ously includes descriptions of the obstacles we might 
encounter in such rigorous work, along with the anti- 
dotes traditionally prescribed by the lineage of Tibetan 
and Indian meditators. 

In addition, Sakyong Mipham instructs the reader 
in contemplative meditation, which sharpens our insight 
and develops our wisdom. Contemplation provides the 



conditions for joy to expand as we realize the nature of 
reality. He places particular emphasis on the practice of 
rousing bodhichitta — awakened heart — an enlightened 
strategy through which we begin to experience our 
great warrior spirit. 

It is difficult to believe that the boy I met so many 
years ago is the exuberant and powerful teacher I 
study with today. Yet there is one thing that remains 
the same — his radiant, somewhat mischievous smile. 
When that young man smiled at me, I instantly felt love 
and a profound bond with him — a love and connection 
that I have felt ever since. That his teachings are finally 
available to a wider audience is wonderful. That they 
will benefit all who read them, I have no doubt. I am 
delighted that this book makes so available the clear 
and precise wisdom of my heart-friend and precious 
teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. 

— Pema Chodron 


Many of the people that I meet as I teach throughout 
the world are questioning what it means to be content 
and happy. So many feel that we've somehow wan- 
dered from our roots, from something very basic to our 
hearts and minds. The ramifications of this wandering 
are far-reaching, manifesting in psychological pain, 
acts of aggression, and consistent confusion about the 
nature of reality. For many of us, life is not leading 
toward awakening. In the Shambhala Buddhist tradi- 
tion, we call this situation "the dark age." 

It is in such times that we turn to spiritual teach- 
ings. We try to find something that can help us. But 
taking a spiritual path isn't meant to be just a way to 
deal with hard times. Following a spiritual path is how 
we awaken to our unique and precious power as 
humans. It can be a natural way of life in all situations, 


not just a way to feel better. We all have seeds inside us 
that we would like to nourish, which is why we yearn 
for deeper meaning in our lives. 

When I'm teaching, people often ask me questions 
in hopes of hearing some esoteric truth. They seem to 
want me to tell them a secret. But the most fundamen- 
tal secret I know is rooted in something that we already 
possess — basic goodness. In spite of the extreme hard- 
ship and cruelty we see happening throughout the 
world, the basis of everything is completely pure and 
good. Our heart and mind are inherently awake. This 
basic goodness is a quality of complete wholesomeness. 
It includes everything. But before we can begin the 
adventure of transforming ourselves into awakened 
people — much less the adventure of living our lives 
with true joy and happiness — we need to discover this 
secret for ourselves. Then we have the real possibility 
of cultivating courage, from which we can radiate love 
and compassion to others. 

My father, Chogyam Trungpa — who was also my 
teacher — was a pioneer in introducing Tibetan Bud- 
dhism in the West. He also introduced the teachings of 
Shambhala, a legendary enlightened society. The first 
king of Shambhala received teachings directly from the 
Buddha. The story goes that everyone in the kingdom 
of Shambhala then began to practice meditation and 
care for others by generating love and compassion. 



Shambhala became a peaceful, prosperous place where 
rulers and subjects alike were wise and kind. 

No one really knows whether the kingdom of 
Shambhala still exists. But if we think of it as the root 
of wakefulness and brilliant sanity that lives within 
each of us, it still has the possibility to uplift us, both 
personally and as a society. The way we reach this 
kingdom is by discovering basic goodness for our- 
selves. Then we can cultivate love and compassion. 
The first step is to train our minds through meditation. 
For dealing with the rigors of life, the mind of medita- 
tion is a wonderful ally. 





The Rock and 
the Flower 

Many of us are slaves to our minds. Our own mind is 
our worst enemy. We try to focus, and our mind wan- 
ders off. We try to keep stress at bay but anxiety keeps 
us awake at night. We try to be good to the people we 
love, but then we forget and put ourselves first. And 
when we want to change our life, we dive into spiritual 
practice and expect to see quick results, only to lose 
focus after the honeymoon has worn off. We return to 
our state of bewilderment. We're left feeling helpless 
and discouraged. 

It seems we all agree that training the body through 
exercise, diet, and relaxation is a good idea, but why 
don't we think about training our mind? Working with 
our mind and emotional states can help us in any activ- 
ity in which we engage, whether it's sports or business 
or study —or a religious path. I've been riding most of 



my life, for example, and I love horses. When riding a 
horse, you have to be awake and aware of what you are 
doing each moment. The horse is alive and expecting 
communication, and you have to be sensitive to its 
mood. To space out could be dangerous. 

Once when I was staying with friends in Colorado, 
I took one of my favorite horses, Rocky, on a trail ride 
through some back country. I had ridden Rocky before, 
mostly in the arena. He was very intelligent, but he 
didn't know how to walk a trail. This was a new situa- 
tion. I was leading the group, and that also made him 
a little nervous. I coaxed him over certain rocks and 
shifted my weight to indicate to him to go around cer- 
tain others, but he kept stumbling. 

We came to a narrow place in the trail. On one side 
was a steep shale cliff and on the other, a long drop into 
a river. Rocky stopped and waited for my direction. We 
both knew that one wrong move would plummet us 
into the river below. I guided him toward the gorge, 
subtly shifting my weight toward the high wall of shale. 
I thought that if he slipped, I could jump off and save 

The moment I shifted, Rocky stopped cold and 
craned his head around to look at me. He knew exactly 
what I was doing. I could tell that he was shocked and 
hurt that I was planning to abandon him. The look in 
his eye said, "You and me together, right?" Seeing how 



terrified he was, I shifted my weight back. He swung 
his head forward in relief and we negotiated the trail 
together with no problems. 

On that ride, Rocky and I created a synergistic 
bond, a wordless rapport. It's that kind of connection 
that I think we can all have with our own minds. In 
dhamatha meditation — "peaceful abiding" — we train 
our minds in stability, clarity, and strength. Through 
this most basic form of sitting meditation, we discover 
that we can abide peacefully. Knowing our natural 
peace is the basis for any spiritual path — the beginning 
and the ground for anyone courageous enough to seek 
true happiness. It is the first step to becoming a 
buddha, which literally means "awakened one." We all 
have the potential to awaken from the sleep of igno- 
rance to the truth of reality. 

Training our mind through peaceful abiding, we 
can create an alliance that allows us to actually use our 
mind, rather than be used by it. This is a practice that 
anyone can do. Although it has its roots in Buddhism, it 
is a complement to any spiritual tradition. If we want 
to undo our own bewilderment and suffering and be of 
benefit to others and the planet, we're going to have to 
be responsible for learning what our own mind is and 
how it works, no matter what beliefs we hold. Once we 
see how our mind works, we see how our life works, 
too. That changes us. 



That's the point of talking about mind and medita- 
tion. The more we understand about ourselves and how 
our mind works, the more the mind can work. The 
Tibetan Udu rungwa means that the mind is functional. 
My father used to sometimes translate this as "work- 
able." It means that we can train the mind to work in 
order to use it to do something particular. For example, 
if we want to generate compassion and love, that's work. 

There is an old saying that bringing Buddhism to 
a new culture is like bringing a flower and a rock 
together. The flower represents the potential for com- 
passion and wisdom, clarity and joy to blossom in our 
life. The rock represents the solidity of a bewildered 
mind. If we want the flower to take root and grow, we 
have to work to create the right conditions. The way to 
do this — both as individuals and as people in a culture 
in which the attainment of personal comfort sometimes 
seems to be the highest standard — is to soften up our 
hearts, our minds, our lives. True happiness is always 
available to us, but first we have to create the environ- 
ment for it to flourish. 

We might have a deep aspiration to slow down, to 
be more compassionate, to be fearless, to live with con- 
fidence and dignity, but we're often not able to accom- 
plish these things because we're so set in our ways. 
Our minds seem so inflexible. We've been touched by 
the softness of the flower, but we haven't figured out 



how to make a place for it. We may feel that our ability 
to love or feel compassion is limited, and that that's just 
the way things are. 

The problem for most of us is that we're trying to 
grow a flower on a rock. The garden hasn't been tilled 
properly. We haven't trained our minds. It doesn't 
work to just throw some seeds on top of the hard 
ground and then hope for the flowers to grow. We have 
to prepare the ground, which requires effort. First we 
have to move the rocks and hoe the weeds. Then we 
have to soften up the earth and create nice topsoil. This 
is what we're doing by learning to peacefully abide in 
sitting meditation: creating the space for our garden to 
grow. Then we can cultivate qualities that will allow 
us to live our lives in full bloom. 

A society of hard and inflexible minds is a society 
that is incapable of nurturing the flowers of love and 
compassion. This is the source of the dark age. We tend 
to question our goodness and our wisdom. When we 
question these things, we begin to use seemingly more 
convenient ways to deal with our problems. We are less 
ready to use love and compassion, more ready to use 
aggression. So we have to continuously remind our- 
selves of basic goodness. If we want to help alleviate 
suffering on our planet, those of us who can make our 
minds pliable must plant a flower on the rock. This is 
how we can create a society based on the energy we get 



from experiencing our own basic goodness. In Tibet 
we call this energy Lungta, "windhorse." 

It is important to look at what actually works, what 
inspires people to meditate, to study, and to put the 
teachings into effect. As a lifelong student of medita- 
tion, I have a deep respect for its profundity as a spiri- 
tual path. I am interested in what people can really use 
in their life, and how to prepare people to truly hear the 
potency and depth of what an enlightened being like 
the Buddha has to say. I am grateful to my teachers for 
passing these teachings on to me, and grateful for the 
chance to share them with you. 

The teachings are always available, like a radio sig- 
nal in the air. But a student needs to learn how to tune 
in to that signal, and how to stay tuned in. We can 
begin the process of personal development now by 
including short periods of meditation as part of our 
everyday lives. Tilling the ground of our own minds 
through meditation is how we begin to create a com- 
munity garden. In doing so we are helping to create a 
new culture, a culture that can thrive in the modern 
world and can at the same time support our human 
journey in an uplifted and joyous way. Such a culture 
is called enlightened society. Enlightened society is 
where the flower and the rock will meet. 



Bewilderment and 

My father and mother were born in Tibet, but I was 
born in India and didn't visit my parents' native land 
until 2001. When I was in Tibet, I traveled through 
some of the most vast, spacious, and beautiful land in 
the world. Our caravan of land-cruisers drove through 
remote valleys surrounded by endless mountain ranges. 
For mile after mile we would pass no sign of civiliza- 
tion. There were, of course, no bathrooms, so we would 
stop to relieve ourselves along the side of the road. No 
matter how isolated we thought we were, someone 
would always come walking around the bend. Then 
another person would come close to check out this 
strange group of travelers in his valley. By the time we 
stood there for more than a minute, the equivalent of 
a whole village would have gathered, laughing and 



smiling and staring into our vehicles. I wondered 
where they were coming from and where they were 
going. I would think, "Are they born from the earth?" 
Probably they were just heading for another herd of 
yaks or a distant monastery, or simply moving to a 
warmer place. They each had a destination. 

The simplicity of that environment made it so clear 
that this is what most of us are doing: traveling from 
one place to another, searching for a lasting happiness. 
There's an element of emptiness that we keep trying to 
assuage. We want to find something that feels good and 
makes sense, something solid that we can use as a 
permanent reference point. Wisdom might tell us that 
we're seeking something we won't ever find, yet part of 
the reason we keep looking is that we've never quite 
been satisfied. Even when we feel great happiness, 
there's a quality of intangibility, as if we're squeezing a 
watermelon seed. Yet day in and day out, year after 
year, and, according to traditional Buddhism, lifetime 
after lifetime, we don't think beyond accomplishing the 
immediate desire to find the missing piece, the one that 
will bring us real happiness. 

Since I'm a Buddhist, the Buddha is my role model 
for an enlightened being. He was a strong person with 
a healthy sense of self —a caring, clear-minded individ- 
ual in harmony with himself and his environment. He 
saw how much suffering was present in the world, and 



he wanted to help. After following many different spir- 
itual paths, he developed the strength, confidence, and 
motivation that he needed to meditate and rest in wis- 
dom. This is how he awoke to the deepest meaning of 
reality and was able endlessly to help others do the 
same. He was a bodhisattva warrior — one who culti- 
vates compassion and wisdom, who has the courage to 
live from the open heart. His journey shows us that we 
too can arouse our open hearts as a way to realize the 
meaning of being fully human. 

The Buddha was born a prince. Because he seemed 
to have a spiritual bent, his father decided early on that 
it would be better for him not to get too curious about 
the world outside the walls of the palace. He didn't 
want his only son going out to seek his spiritual for- 
tune, which was a popular thing to do in India back 
then. So the king kept the world within the royal walls 
humming with all kinds of entertainment, activities, 
and sensual delights. The Buddha grew up with every- 
thing he needed, all within the walls of his own private 
world. When he was older, there were dancing girls 
and later a wife and baby. For a long time, he didn't get 
to know the world beyond the walls. But then one day 
he rode out with a servant and saw sick people, old 
people, dead people, and a wandering ascetic. This 
completely changed his view. No longer could he live 
to simply take delight in the entertainments of the royal 



world, where his father had managed to keep from him 
the facts of life. His father's worst fears came true, and 
the Buddha left the kingdom immediately. Dissatisfied 
with maintaining an illusion, he wanted to understand 
his life — and life itself. Just like the Buddha, most of us 
also would like to learn some basic truth about our 
lives and get a bigger perspective about what's going 
on. The path of meditation offers us this possibility. 

What the Buddha saw is that life is marked by four 
qualities: impermanence, suffering, selflessness, and 
peace. He saw that we keep butting our heads against 
this basic reality and it hurts. We suffer because we 
want life to be different from what it is. We suffer 
because we try to make pleasurable what is painful, to 
make solid what is fluid, to make permanent what is 
always changing. The Buddha saw that we try to make 
ourselves into something real and unchanging when 
our fundamental state of being is unconditionally open 
and ungraspable — selfless. We discover this notion of 
selflessness in meditation, where we learn to zoom 
away from our thoughts and emotions and become 
familiar with these basic facts of life. Accepting the 
impermanence and selflessness of our existence, we 
will stop suffering and realize peace. That, in a nut- 
shell, is what the Buddha taught. It sounds simple. Yet 
instead of relaxing into this elemental truth, we keep 
searching around the next corner and never getting 



quite what we want. In Buddhist language, that is 
known as damdara. In Tibetan, the word is khorwa, 
which means "circular." 

Samsara is a circle of suffering, like a wheel that 
endlessly goes around and around. We are spinning 
our wheels. We keep looking for something to be dif- 
ferent. Next time we will be happy; This relationship 
didn't work out — but the next one will. This restaurant 
isn't that good — but the next item on the menu might 
really do it for me. My last meditation session wasn't 
great, and the one before that wasn't great either — but 
this one's really going to be different. One thing keeps 
leading to another, and instead of the simplicity and 
happiness we desire, we only feel more burdened by 
our lives. Instead of relaxing into the basic goodness 
that connects us with every other living being, we 
suffer the illness of separation, which is just a trick of 
our minds. 

The Buddha said, "True suffering is the nature of 
samsara." We may not even see the suffering in our life, 
partly because we've become so accustomed to it. But if 
we look beneath the surface, we'll see that suffering is 
percolating through like an underground river. Whether 
we acknowledge it or not, we sense that it's there and 
maintain a mental vigilance to keep ourselves occupied 
in an attempt to avoid it. Over and over again we come 
up with schemes to outsmart samsara. Even though we 



know that nothing changes the basic character of sam- 
sara, we keep trying to make it work out. This is high- 
maintenance pleasure. It's what keeps us on the wheel. 
It's how we keep trying to make samsara work. We 
think, "I know it's endless. I know it's painful. I know 
what you're saying. I believe you. But I've got just one 
more thing, just one little thing." We can go to the 
grave saying this. That is samsara. "Just one more" is 
the binding factor of the cycle of suffering. 

The Buddha was an astronaut who traveled into 
space and saw that suffering is a circle. We say "just 
one more" because we don't see it the way Buddha did. 
We're under the illusion that we're moving in a straight 
line. Yet just as the Earth seems flat as long as we're on 
it, we think we're walking in a straight line when actu- 
ally we're stuck in a circle of suffering. 

And though it certainly feels like an objective real- 
ity, this circle of suffering is just a state of mind. For 
example, we might think of a violent part of a big city 
as "samsaric." If the Buddha were in that place, how- 
ever, he wouldn't experience it that way at all. He 
would experience it just as it is, without the filter of 
judgment or opinion. It's our mind that's samsaric. Suf- 
fering is the state of mind that regards itself as real. We 
can spend our whole life trying to create a solid, lasting 
self. We can spend our whole life looking outside our- 
selves for something to reflect this delusion of solidity, 


to be as real and lasting as we wish ourselves to be. 
Search though we will, it's impossible to find what 
doesn't exist, and the perpetual search causes suffer- 
ing. The Buddha saw the reality that we're bewildered 
and suffering because we take ourselves so seriously. 
We haven't seen the open radiance of basic goodness, 
our natural state. 

The fact is that what appears to us as a solid reality 
is actually in a state of continuous flux. The world is a 
continuous state of flux. The house that we grew up in 
is not the same house anymore. The mother and father 
that we knew when we were children are physically 
different now. Where is our first bicycle? At one time, 
it seemed so real. Everything is always coming together 
and falling apart, and it doesn't seem to pose a problem 
for anyone but us. Spring knows how to be summer 
and autumn leaves know how to fall down. Coming 
together and falling apart is the movement of time, the 
movement of life. This is as obvious as our own face, 
and yet we imagine our self as solid and unchanging. 
We stick up for it; we protect it. We feel angry when 
someone challenges the opinions we hold dear. If some- 
thing doesn't go our way, we feel insulted. When some- 
thing interrupts our routine, we feel a sense of loss. We 
try to ward off signs of aging. 

The Buddha said, "I'm not going to tell you one 
way or another; but if you are real, then where are 



you? And if the world is real, then where is it?" In Bud- 
dhism we talk about emptiness because when we start 
to investigate that self, we can't find anything solid or 
substantial. There's a detuie of self — a shadow. We have 
eyes and visual consciousness — that is a sense of "me." 
We have touch and feeling — that is a sense of "me." We 
have memories, thoughts, actions, and speech, all add- 
ing up to a sense of "me." We have a body and the plea- 
sure and pain that come with that, and those things 
are "me," too. This sense of self is mentally fabricated, 
defined by outer conditions. We say, "I don't feel like 
myself today." But when we look for this self that we 
want to feel like — where is it? The same is true for the 
world around us. We feel that everything is just as it 
appears. Yet if we look beneath the surface, we find 
that our universe is not quite as stable as it seems. The 
things "out there" change just as much as we do. 

With this kind of practice and inquisitiveness, an 
enlightened being like the Buddha learns to look at the 
landscape of life in a clear, unbiased way. When he 
began to teach, the Buddha was just reporting his ob- 
servations: "This is what I see about how things are." 
He wasn't presenting any particular viewpoint. He 
wasn't preaching dogma; he was pointing out reality. 
Saying that impermanence is a Buddhist belief is like 
saying that Buddhists believe water is wet. The Bud- 
dha didn't create impermanence or selflessness, suffer- 



ing or peace; the Buddha just saw reality, noticed how 
it works, and acknowledged it for the rest of us. We 
can spend our entire life trying to create a solid self, but 
we won't be able to make it stick. Once we relax into 
this simple truth, we can go beyond bewilderment and 

I recently had an amusing experience with a 
Tibetan lama friend. He had just arrived in the West 
for the first time, and I was having fun showing him 
different aspects of our culture. He's a learned man, 
but when it came to his adventure in discovering the 
ways of the West, he was very innocent. I took him 
to see the film The Grinch, thinking that although he 
couldn't understand all the dialogue, at least it would 
be colorful and entertaining for him, and he would 
enjoy the special effects. 

We watched the movie and he seemed to like it. 
Afterward, I asked him if he understood it. He said, 
"Just one question: What is Christmas?" I answered 
that it's the holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus 
Christ. Then he said in a very respectful tone of voice, 
"So, that green monkey in the movie was Jesus 

I had a good laugh over that, especially because he 
was being so respectful. I realized that as bizarre as his 
question sounded, it was genuine. I asked, "Why do 
you think that?" 



"Well, he lived in a cave in the mountains and he 
had a rough time in the beginning, and then things got 
better, and in the end it all seemed good." 

In Tibet, many of the historical and mythical holy 
people live in caves and are eccentric. There is a 
famous saintlike yogi named Milarepa who lived in a 
cave in the mountains. He had all kinds of adventures 
and overcame incredible obstacles through meditation. 
During his years in the cave, he lived on nettle soup 
much of the time, and it is said that his skin turned 
green. In addition, Tibetan mythology has it that 
humans are partly descended from monkeys. 

My friend was pulling together different ideas from 
his experience to draw his strange conclusion. He was 
making a leap from his culture into ours. And of 
course, it seems absurd to us that anyone would think 
that the Grinch was Jesus Christ. It's just as absurd to 
think we have a self. Yet we spend our lives clinging to 
an imaginary identity cobbled together from different 
thoughts and concepts, trying to keep it happy, and 
that is why we suffer. This isn't a sin, it's an ancient 
habit perpetuated by our bewildered minds. 

The bewildered mind is like a wild horse. It runs away 
when we try to find it, shies when we try to approach it. 
If we find a way to ride it, it takes off with the bit in its 



teeth and finally throws us right into the mud. We 
think that the only way to steady it is to give it what it 
wants. We spend so much of our energy trying to sat- 
isfy and entertain this wild horse of a mind. 

The bewildered mind is weak because it is continu- 
ally distracted. It's distracted by the overriding need to 
maintain the comfort of "me." It is meditating on dis- 
cursiveness and self-absorption and that leads to suf- 
fering, because the bewildered mind can't go beyond 
itself. When difficulty arises, it's unable to cope. When 
the unexpected occurs, it reacts from the limited per- 
spective of wanting to stay happy in a small place. So if 
we're threatened, we strike out with anger. If some- 
body has something we want, automatically we feel 
jealous. If we see something we like, we feel desire. We 
might not question these responses — not even ask, "Is 
it worth getting angry about?" What makes us happy 
and what makes us sad come down to volatile outer 
conditions, circumstances that are constantly chang- 
ing. This adds up to bewilderment and suffering for us. 

With an untrained mind, we'll live most days of our 
lives at the mercy of our moods. Waking up in the 
morning is like gambling: "What mind did I end up 
with today? Is it the irritated mind, the happy mind, 
the anxious mind, the angry mind, the compassionate 
mind, or the loving mind?" Most of the time we believe 
that the mind-set we have is who we are and we live 



our day from it. We meditate on it. We don't question 
it. Whether we wake up feeling dread or excitement or 
just feeling sleepy, the propelling motivation is simply 
wanting things to go well for "me." 

There's a place between Earth and Mars that scien- 
tists call the Goldilocks zone. It's a place that's not too 
hot, not too cold, but jiut right — a place where life 
could conceivably be supported. Many of us live from 
the motivation to keep ourselves in such a zone. We 
spend our lives constructing a personal Goldilocks 
zone where our solid sense of self feels comfortable and 
protected. Everything's just how we like it, and we 
work to keep it that way. 

Perpetuating this zone involves worrying. Many 
different aspects of our life must align in order for us to 
be happy. If they don't come together, we're going to 
suffer. Our mind chews on hope and fear because it's 
unable to relax. We're afraid of what will happen if we 
loosen our grip on ourselves. So we continually spin a 
web of concepts, beliefs, opinions, and moods that we 
identify as "me." It's like a closed-circuit TV. We're 
always sure of where we are; there's not much else to 
be known; nothing will ever really touch us. We work 
to draw in what will make us happy, fend off whatever 
causes pain, and pretty much ignore the rest. This is 
what most of us consider pleasure. We create a comfort 



zone based on the motivation "I just want to get by." I 
call this the "have a nice day" approach. 

As a motivation for living our lives, "have a nice 
day" is very confining. It keeps us trapped in dissatis- 
faction, self-involvement, and fear. We feel defensive 
and claustrophobic. We are running on speed, need, 
and greed. And we are often moving so quickly that we 
don't even notice that we have a motivation. That sense 
of oppression is maintained by our bewildered, un- 
trained mind. It's all-pervasive, deep, as if we're dream- 
ing. This is suffering. 

There is a different approach to our lives. We can 
wake up to our enlightened qualities: unconditional 
love and compassion; uninhibited, total ease with our- 
selves; a clear and sharp mind. In order to open our 
courageous warrior heart, however, we first have to 
understand the nature of our bewilderment. What's 
going on in samsara, this cyclical existence that entraps 
us? From the Buddhist point of view, we've created 
our own situation. We're operating out of a basic and 
habitual misunderstanding. Even though we're dream- 
ing, we think we're real. No matter what we do to hold 
ourselves together, the truth is that we are always 
falling apart. As soon as we wash our car, it rains. So 
what are we going to do about it? The Buddha suggests 
that rather than resist samsara, complain about it, or 



keep trying to outsmart it, we take a good long look 
and say, "Let's figure out what's happening here." 

We have to understand the suffering of our bewil- 
dered mind and decide that we've had enough of it. 
We're not fleeing from the world. Rather, we're recog- 
nizing the dreamlike quality of existence and not buy- 
ing into it — or ourselves — as hard and real. Once we 
understand the play of impermanence and selflessness, 
we can take ourselves less seriously and enjoy life 
much more. If, like the Buddha, we were able to see the 
empty and luminous nature of reality, we'd wake up 
from our dream in a snap. True liberation is life without 
the illusion of "me" — or "you." 

Just like the Buddha, however, we have to go on a 
journey before we can see reality so clearly. The jour- 
ney begins with understanding why we suffer. We have 
to recognize the basic landscape we're living in. If our 
goal in life is to give "me" a good time, it won't work 
out. Why? Because the lay of the land is birth, aging, 
sickness, and death. That's the game plan for "me." 
And within that, we have pleasure that keeps changing 
into pain. There's no permanence or stability here, nor 
is there a solid self. Death comes, often without warn- 
ing. We suffer when we spend our lives denying the 
basic truth of our existence. 

Our human lives are exceedingly precious because 
they offer us the possibility of discovering our inherent 



awakeness. Like pictures we see of the Buddha, "awake" 
is shimmering, radiant, fluid, and primordially pure. 
It's what we're made of, and it connects us all. What 
lies between us and the joy of this basic goodness is the 
trick our bewildered minds keep playing. Meditation is 
how we unravel the illusion. 

It's fine to take pleasure, to enjoy good food, and to 
listen to beautiful music. Becoming curious about how 
we suffer doesn't mean that we can no longer enjoy eat- 
ing ice cream. But once we begin to understand the 
bewilderment of our untrained mind, we won't look to 
the ice cream and say, "That's happiness." We'll realize 
that the mind can be happy devoid of ice cream. We'll 
realize that the mind is content and happy by nature. 



Peaceful Abiding 

Even though the bewildered mind is untrained, it is 
already meditating, whether we know it or not. Medi- 
tation is the natural process of becoming familiar with 
an object by repeatedly placing our minds upon it. 
Whatever we're doing, we always have a view; we're 
always placing our mind on one object or another. For 
example, when we get up in the morning and we're 
anxious about something, anxiety becomes our view 
for the day: "What about me? When will I get what I 
want?" The object of our meditation is "me." 

In peaceful abiding, we ground our mind in the 
present moment. We place our mind on the breath and 
practice keeping it there. We notice when thoughts and 
emotions distract us, and train in continually returning 
our mind to the breath. This is how we shift our alle- 
giance from the bewildered mind that causes its own 



suffering to the mind that is stable, clear, and strong. 
We proclaim our desire to discover this mind of stabil- 
ity, clarity, and strength by learning to rest in our own 

Turning the mind into an ally is a matter of learning 
to see ourselves as we are. Ordinarily we just can't 
handle the natural joy of our mind, so we end up 
churning up intense emotions. These emotions keep us 
trapped in suffering. In peaceful abiding we begin to 
see how the mind works. 

"Peaceful abiding" describes the mind as it natu- 
rally is. The word peace tells the whole story. The 
human mind is by nature joyous, calm, and very clear. 
In shamatha meditation we aren't creating a peaceful 
state— we're letting our mind be as it is to begin with. 
This doesn't mean that we're peacefully ignoring things. 
It means that the mind is able to be in itself without 
constantly leaving. 

From a Buddhist point of view, human beings 
aren't intrinsically aggressive; we are inherently peace- 
ful. This is sometimes hard to believe. When we're 
angry or upset, our untrained mind becomes belliger- 
ent and we routinely strike out at others. We imagine 
that reacting aggressively to the object of our emotion 
will resolve our pain. Throughout history we have used 
this approach over and over again. Striking out when 
we're in pain is clearly one way we perpetuate misery. 



With a trained mind, a stable mind, a mind with a larger 
motivation than its own comfort, we find another way 
to work with the difficulties of daily life. When we're in 
a difficult situation, we maintain our seat. Instead of 
perpetuating misery by acting out aggression, we learn 
to use the rough spots to spark the courage to proceed 
on our journey. Eventually we may actually be able 
to turn the mind of anger into the energy of love and 

But first we learn how to abide peacefully. If we can 
remember what the word dhamatha means, we can 
always use it as a reference point. We can say "What is 
this meditation that I'm doing? It is calm, peaceful 
abiding." At the same time we'll begin to see that our 
mind is always abiding somewhere — not necessarily in 
its peaceful natural state. Perhaps it's abiding in irrita- 
tion, anger, jealousy. Seeing all of this is how we begin 
to untangle our bewilderment. 

We're accustomed to living a life based on running 
after our wild mind, a mind that is continually giving 
birth to thoughts and emotions. It's not that there's any- 
thing inherently wrong with thoughts and emotions — 
in fact, the point of making our mind an ally is that we 
can begin to direct them for benefit. Through peace- 
fully abiding we begin to see our emotions at work. We 
begin to see that we have to work with these intense 
emotions because if we don't, they'll grow. Once they 



grow, we act on them. When we act on them, they cre- 
ate our environment. 

Meditation shows how discursive thoughts lead to 
emotions — irritation, anxiety, passion, aggression, jeal- 
ousy, pride, greed — which lead to suffering. For ex- 
ample, the person sitting next to you on the bus has a 
really fancy CD player. First you're intrigued by all the 
bells and whistles. Then, before you know it, you want 
one just like it, even though your own player was per- 
fectly adequate two minutes ago. You were sitting 
there peacefully, and now you're a volcano of desire. 
On top of that, you're jealous of this total stranger for 
having something you want. You were enjoying the 
ride, and now, a few thoughts later, you're miserable. 

Reacting to emotion creates further reactions later. 
We're planning a vacation with a friend and disagree 
about what day to leave. Our friend is angry, which 
makes us angry, which makes him angrier, and before 
we know it, our trip is down the drain. Being discur- 
sive might feel good, just as food we're allergic to tastes 
good, but after we eat it, we suffer. 

Meditation is a very personal journey. Simply by 
being conscious of the present moment so we can 
ground ourselves in it, we relax our sense of self and 
begin to tune in to reality as it is. We begin to realize 
what we don't know, and we become curious: "What is 
truly valid? What is the truth of my experience?" If we 



lived in the wilderness, we'd observe nature's patterns 
around us: the activity of the birds and animals, the 
behavior of the weather, and changes in the plant life. 
After a while, we'd be intimate with the environment. 
We might be able to predict when winter is coming and 
whether it would be long or short. Similarly, in peace- 
ful abiding we can begin to observe and understand 
our thought patterns. We can watch how our mind 
weaves from one idea to another, one emotion to 
another. We can see how it fabricates a comfort zone. 
We can see how it wants to take action. We can begin 
to understand its course without judging it. We just 
notice the internal environment and become familiar 
with it. 

After we've spent some time watching thoughts and 
emotions come and go, we begin to see them clearly. 
They no longer have the power to destabilize us, 
because we see how ephemeral they are. Then we can 
actually begin to change our patterns, and in doing so, 
change our whole environment. But to reap this benefit 
requires consistent practice. 

Once we establish a regular practice, our life can 
feel like it's undergoing a major upheaval. Meditating 
is a new way of looking at things. We have to be willing 
to change. When we begin to tame the movement of 
our mind, it affects everything else. It's like renovating: 
once you start, it's hard to stop. For example, at 



Shambhala Mountain Center, where I teach every 
summer, our meditation hall was getting old and funky, 
so we built a new one. Then by contrast, the kitchen 
looked small and old, so we needed to build a new 
kitchen, too. 

In beginning to meditate, you might see things 
about yourself that you don't like, so it's important to 
ask yourself if you're willing to change. Before you 
consider entering a spiritual path, you have to begin by 
looking at the basic ground. Before you even sit down, 
ask yourself these questions: Do I actually want to 
become a better person? Do I really want to work with 
my mind? We're not talking about becoming a goody- 
goody. We're saying that we can choose to become 
stronger, kinder, wiser, and more focused. We can 
become more in tune with how things are. Do we really 
want to do that? 

The notion of meditation is very simple. We slow 
down and begin to look at the pattern of our life. We 
have to start with the mind, then the body follows. This 
is not to say that once we start meditating, everything 
will work out and well have no problems. We'll still 
have disagreements with friends and family, we'll still 
get parking tickets, we'll still miss flights, well still burn 
the toast on occasion. Meditation doesn't take us to the 
end of the rainbow — it opens the possibility of com- 
pletely embodying our enlightened qualities by making 



our mind an ally. When we meditate, we're training 
ourselves to see our weak points and strengthen our 
positive ones. We're altering our basic perception. We're 
beginning to change how we relate to the world — but 
not forcefully. 

Once we start really looking at the mind, we see 
some elements of how it works. For one, the mind is 
always placing itself on something. It has to do this in 
order to know what's going on. Generally we ingrain 
the tendency to follow distractions — which is the oppo- 
site of stabilizing the mind. Maybe the mind places 
itself on the idea of dinner. Then we think about what's 
in the refrigerator. Then we think about a restaurant. 
Then we think about what we'd wear to the restaurant. 
Then we think about buying new clothes. The mind is 
continually placing itself, usually for only a few sec- 
onds at a time. That is the case even when we're think- 
ing systematically about something, such as a plan. 

For instance, if I'm going from New York to Paris, 
I think about how I am going to do that. What day will 
I fly, at what time? Will I get frequent-flier miles? How 
long will it take? Then where will I go? And who will 
I see when I get there? If we look at our mind as it's 
planning, we'll see that between all those planning 
thoughts, other thoughts are arising. Although it may 
seem as if we're having a stream of thoughts about our 
vacation, if we look closely, we'll see that the mind is 



continuously bouncing back and forth between many 
thoughts — "It feels warm in here; shall I open a win- 
dow? I wonder what's for lunch. Is there time to pick 
something up at the grocery store before the meeting 
this afternoon? " But since mod t of the thoughts are about 
the trip, we say, "Oh, I am planning my vacation." 

Something else we'll see when we begin to look at 
our mind carefully is that we don't really perceive sev- 
eral things at once; we can only perceive one thing at a 
time. Try it out. It feels as if we hear the bird and see 
the sunshine at the same time, but in terms of the actual 
experience, the mind is moving from one perception to 
another. If we're thinking about what we are cooking 
for dinner, we'll have consecutive thoughts about it; in 
between, our mind places itself on other things many 
times over. The memory of a pleasant telephone 
encounter earlier in the day pops up; we notice that 
someone has washed the breakfast dishes; we like this 
track on the CD and we wonder who's singing. If we 
look closely at our mind, we see that it always behaves 
this way. 

If we have enough similar thoughts, we call it a 
stream of consciousness, a stream of thought. How- 
ever, the current of the mind is always fluctuating. The 
mind weaves an illusion of solidity by putting things 
together; it's actually going back and forth. At the 
beginning of peaceful abiding we discover what the 



mind is by drawing it in. We do this by sitting still and 
training in holding it to something for more than a few 
seconds. Repeatedly bringing it back to the breath may 
feel unnatural at the beginning, like having to hold a 
child to keep him from squirming. But if we keep doing 
it, at some point we begin to see that underneath the 
distraction and bewilderment, something else is going 
on. We begin to see the mind's underlying stillness. 
There is intelligence; there's some kind of stability; 
there's some kind of strength. We begin to see how the 
discursiveness of thoughts and emotions keeps us from 
experiencing these natural qualities of the mind. 

In peaceful abiding we use the present moment as a 
reference point for relating to our mind and overcom- 
ing its wildness and discursiveness. When we sit down 
to meditate, there's so much going on in our mind that 
it's easy to get lost. We wander around in this dense 
jungle, not knowing where we are going. The present 
moment and the breath are like a hilltop in the dis- 
tance. We keep our eyes on it as we walk toward it. 
We need to get to the hilltop, climb it, and look around 
so that we can figure out where we are. 

Returning our mind to the breath is how we learn 
to be mindful and aware. It's like giving a child a pet: 
caring for a living creature teaches us responsibility and 
loving-kindness. When we grow up, we can express 
what we have learned to others. In the same way, we 



are using the breath as a vehicle to bring us into the 
present moment. 

When I was young, I trained falcons. I would use 
tiny pieces of meat as a reference point. After a while, 
whenever I blew a whistle the bird would fly over to 
take the meat from my hand. It was challenging work, 
since the birds' natural tendency is not to trust a 
human. Training them for many months in captivity 
taught me the value of accepting small improvements 
day by day. After the trust was there, I could release 
the bird into the wild. That was the moment of truth: 
when I blew the whistle, would the bird return to my 
hand? This is very much like how we train our minds 
to return to the breath in peaceful abiding. It takes 

When we experience a moment of peacefully abid- 
ing, it seems so far-out. Our mind is no longer drifting, 
thinking about a million things. The sun comes up or 
a beautiful breeze comes along — and all of a sudden 
we feel the breeze and we are completely in tune. We 
think, "That's a very spiritual experience. It's a reli- 
gious experience. At least worth a poem, or a letter 
home." But all that's happening is that for a moment 
we're in tune with our mind. Our mind is present and 
harmonious. Before, we were so busy and bewildered 
that we didn't even notice the breeze. Our mind 
couldn't even stay put long enough to watch the sun 



come up, which takes two and a half minutes. Now we 
can keep it in one place long enough to acknowledge 
and appreciate our surroundings. Now we are really 
here. In fact, being in the present moment is ordinary; 
it's the point of being human. 

Learning to be present for the moment is the begin- 
ning of the spiritual path. By sitting still and training 
our mind to be with the breath, we begin to relax our 
discursiveness. We see how the mind creates our solid 
sense of self and begin to discover the mind's natural 
state of being. With this experience, we can cultivate 
our garden. The flowers of love, compassion, and wis- 
dom gradually take over, and the weeds of anger, jeal- 
ousy, and self-involvement have less and less room to 
grow. In peaceful abiding we become familiar with the 
ground of basic goodness. This is how we turn the 
mind into an ally. 





Taking Our Seat 

When I was a teenager, I would sometimes go on 
retreat with my father. On one retreat my practice con- 
sisted of four sessions of sitting meditation per day My 
father would always sneak into my meditation room at 
the beginning of my session to see if I was beginning 
properly. I used to think, "Why doesn't he sneak in 
during the middle of my session, to see if I'm maintain- 
ing my practice?" After a while I realized that he was 
interested in how I was taking my seat. He was watch- 
ing to see if I had the appropriate attitude toward train- 
ing my mind. The mind is the king and queen. We 
approach our meditation seat as if it were a throne in 
the center of our life. 

There are many statues and paintings of the Bud- 
dha in meditation posture. These beautifully illustrate 
how the posture is designed to allow natural strength 



and groundedness with some kind of openness and dig- 
nity. By taking an upright sitting posture, we enable 
the body to relax and the mind to be awake. You can 
use different postures for meditation, but under ordi- 
nary circumstances, sitting on either a cushion or a 
chair is best. If you're unable to sit, it is possible to do 
this technique while walking or standing or even lying 
down. However, the most efficient posture for this 
practice is sitting. 

When you sit down, take a balanced, grounded 
posture to allow the energy in the center of your body 
to move freely. If you 're on a cushion, sit with your legs 
loosely crossed. If you're in a chair, keep your legs 
uncrossed and your feet flat on the floor. Imagine that a 
string attached to the top of your head is pulling you 
upright. Let your organs, muscles, and bones settle 
around your erect spine, like a coat falling around a 
hanger. Your vertebrae should feel as though they are 
stacked like gold coins, allowing for the natural curva- 
ture of the spine. 

When I was young, I would sit around comparing 
battle scars with a friend of mine who was also an 
incarnate lama. An incarnate lama is an individual who 
purposely takes a rebirth in a recognized lineage of 
teachers in order to continue working for the benefit of 
others. In the Tibetan tradition, this involves intensive, 
highly disciplined training. My tutor used to pinch me 



or use a bamboo switch, but my friend's tutor was more 
extreme. He taught his charge to hold his meditation 
posture by making him sit for hours on a rock sur- 
rounded by thorn bushes. If he moved, he'd be stuck 
with thorns. Although it sounds harsh, it was effective 
in teaching him to sit very still and upright. 

The reason these tutors put so much emphasis on 
sitting up straight is that slouching impairs the breath- 
ing, which directly affects the mind. If you slump, 
you'll be struggling with discomfort in your body at the 
same time that you're trying to train your mind. What 
you want to be doing is the opposite: synchronizing 
your body and mind. 

After you work with getting your spine straight, 
place your hands on your thighs. They shouldn't rest so 
far forward that it begins to pull your shoulders down, 
nor so far back that the shoulders contract and pinch 
the spine. The fingers are close and relaxed — not 
spread out in a grip, as if you can't let yourself go. 

Tuck your chin in and relax your jaw. The tongue is 
also relaxed, the tip resting against your upper teeth. 
Your mouth is ever so slightly open. Your gaze is 
downward with the eyelids half shut. If the gaze takes 
in too much, it will be hard to abide peacefully. On the 
other hand, closing the eyes completely might encour- 
age you to fall asleep or to withdraw your mind from 
the technique. If your mind feels removed and insular, 



intense and dark, try raising the gaze and allowing 
more space into your practice. The eyes aren't looking, 
by the way; the eyes just see. It is the same with 
sound — we aren't listening, but we do hear. In other 
words, we're not focusing with our senses. 

The first step of the meditation technique is place- 
ment: placing our mind on the object of meditation. 
One of the Tibetan words for meditation is gom, which 
means "to become familiar with." In meditation we are 
introduced to an object and become familiar with it. 
We could use any object — a pebble, a flame, or the 
body. Our usual object of meditation — and the mind is 
always meditating on something — is "me." 

In peaceful abiding, the object is the simple act of 
breathing. The breath represents being alive in the im- 
mediacy of the moment. Placing the mind on the breath 
and returning to it again and again is the essence of 
shamatha. Through resting the mind on the breath we 
stay present, awake, and mindful. Placement means 
staying with the feeling of the breathing. The flow of 
the breath soothes the mind and allows for steadiness 
and relaxation. It also reduces discursiveness. 

This is ordinary breathing; nothing is exaggerated. 
We just breathe. If you're having a hard time staying 
with the breath — spacing out or losing track between 
breathing out and breathing in — counting the in- and 
out-cycles of the breath can be a helpful remedy to 



bring yourself back to focus. We breathe in, and then 
out— one. In and then out — two. If you use this method, 
count seven or twenty-one breaths and then start over. 
If you become distracted and lose count, start over 
again at one. Once you are more focused, you can drop 
the counting. 

Becoming familiar with the subtle rhythms of the 
breath is part of the natural development of peaceful 
abiding. We're placing the mind on the whole breath, 
and it takes time to feel what that is. We might discover 
that the breath itself is not as solid as our concept of the 
breath. We might see that the word breath describes 
something that is not so much one entity as a series of 
events. Air enters through the nostrils, the abdomen 
expands, and the breath rests there for a moment. Then 
the diaphragm contracts and the breath leaves the 
lungs, gently exits the nostrils, and dissolves into space. 

Using the breath as our object of meditation is very 
good because the air moving in and out allows us to 
have some kind of steadiness in contrast with our dis- 
cursiveness. It also allows us to relax. That is the virtue 
of the breathing. Through placing our mind on this 
process, we relax our whole being. Tensions begin to 
dissolve. The breathing soothes the mind and allows it 
to rest. As our thoughts slow down and we settle into 
ourselves, the division between mind and body lessens. 
We start to feel our heart beating. We sense the flow of 



our blood. We can almost feel our bones. We become a 
whole being, with a synchronized body and mind. 

But that's not all that's happening. As we sit and 
place our mind on the breath, the natural playfulness of 
the mind continually arises. The movement of thoughts 
and emotions distracts us. We tend to get lost in the 
flood. We're thinking about how interesting it is that 
we're finally meditating, and wonder what our friends 
will think. We're thinking about where we parked the 
car. We're thinking about how good a cookie would 
taste right now. We're thinking that we're sleepy and 
could use a cup of coffee. These thoughts are little sto- 
ries we're telling ourselves. Most of them concern the 
past and future, not the present. 

We may become swept away for a while and forget 
that the breath — not the thoughts and emotions — is 
the object of our meditation. The technique at this 
point is that when we notice that we're thinking, we 
acknowledge it. We can label it if we wish — "Thinking." 
Whether we label it or not, when we notice it, we 
bring our minds back to the breath. In acknowledg- 
ing thoughts, we're recognizing the movement of the 
mind, the wildness of the bewildered mind. We're train- 
ing in awareness of who we are as human beings. 
We're training in being undistracted and focused. We're 
training in being fully present for our lives. 



For example, we're holding a sturdy and relaxed 
posture and have placed our mind on the breath. We 
relax into the breathing and are in the midst of peace- 
fully resting our mind when a thought pops up: "I hope 
I don't have to cook again tonight. Why doesn't anyone 
else cook dinner? I'm the only one in the house who's 
really working anymore. Who do they think I am, 
Superman?" Our peaceful abiding has been flooded by 
a current of thinking that is about to become an emo- 
tional torrent. At some point, we see this. "Oh! I'm 
thinking." Acknowledging it, we allow the thought to 
dissipate, and we return to the breath. We realize that 
now we are practicing meditation, so it is not the time 
to think about those things but to simply pay attention 
to our breathing. We refocus our attention and say to 
ourselves, "Now I am placing my mind on the breath." 

Beginning to meditate is like learning how to ride a 
horse: we have to learn to balance. We're learning to 
balance working with the breath, sitting up straight, and 
recognizing, acknowledging, and releasing thoughts. 
We feel like we should be able to do this right away, 
but meditation is relatively subtle, and getting it all 
coordinated takes some time. As we're learning to 
peacefully abide, we'll be falling down, getting up, 
falling down, getting up. It's important to be gentle and 
allow a bit of a grace period. We'll tend to hold our 



mind too tight. We're sitting there, a thought arises, 
and we think, "Oh! Thoughts are bad." We become 
irritated trying to deal with the thought, so we over- 
react and squash it. Yet at this stage a certain amount 
of thinking is inevitable. 

Eventually we begin to realize that the breath itself 
is soothing. We enjoy the breath. It's not some sort of 
nasty reminder to work harder. We're simply breathing 
in and out. It's as if we're discovering for the first time 
that we are breathing human beings. Then we might go 
through a period of meditation where we realize, "My 
goodness, my heart has to beat and my blood has to 
flow in order for me to stay alive!" We're experiencing 
our physical body. We're developing the ability to 
check in with that very basic quality of who we are. We 
might even experience a level of fear when we see how 
tenuous it all is. 

We need precision to apply the technique and bring 
our minds back to the breath. It's said that great medi- 
tators become so centered that they can feel their blood 
flow. They can actually sense the atomic level of their 
cellular structure. We need gentleness to keep the 
process neutral and light-handed. We don't need to 
analyze or judge a thought when it arises — or judge 
ourselves for having it. The contents of the thought, 
whether it's about the football game or our deepest, 
darkest secret, are neither good nor bad. A thought is 



just a thought. Chastising ourselves for thinking is also 
just a thought. So the instruction is to see the thought 
as a distraction and come back to the breath. This kind 
of gentleness makes for a healthy meditation practice. 

One of the main obstacles to thoroughly enjoying 
meditation is aches and pains. Our knees throb, our 
back aches, our shoulders feel tight. The possibility of 
pain is enough of a deterrent to keep some people from 
practicing in the first place. I often encounter people 
who assume that the meditation posture is supposed 
to be painful. That's unfortunate, because it is meant to 
feel good. Bodily pain is not a mandatory aspect of 
meditation. Peaceful abiding is not restricted to our 
emotional state; meditation relaxes our whole being, 
which of course includes the body. 

Since we may not be accustomed to sitting still for 
long periods of time without being held up by chairs or 
pillows, however, we have to be gentle with ourselves. 
There is a process of getting used to the posture. West- 
erners often find the idea of sitting on cushions daunt- 
ing, because we're not used to sitting on the floor. In 
Tibet and other Asian countries, however, people 
aren't comfortable sitting in chairs. Halfway through 
a banquet once, I noticed that Shibata Sensei, my 
Japanese archery teacher, had given up sitting West- 
ern style, drawing his legs into a cross-legged position 
on his chair. Whether we sit in a chair or on a cushion, 



the important point is to realize that bodily pain can 
and should be soothed as we practice. In order to make 
the journey of meditation, we have to include our body 
in our practice and allow it to loosen up as the mind 

Once we've settled into our posture, we make a 
clear and precise beginning to our practice. It's not 
necessary to do this with a gong or a bell, the way Bud- 
dhists traditionally do; you can just say to yourself 
something like, "Now I will begin to work with my 
mind and develop peaceful abiding." 

You can start by sitting for ten minutes once a day. 
If you want to make your session longer, expand it to 
twenty minutes. If you want to sit more than once, try 
sandwiching your day between one session in the 
morning and one in the evening. If you can't practice 
every day, choose three or four days a week for prac- 
tice and stay with this schedule. If you're temporarily 
busier than usual — working on a big project or taking 
exams, for example — adjust your sitting schedule 
accordingly and stick with it. Consistency is important. 
(See Appendix A, "Preparing to Practice," for addi- 
tional information.) 

At the end of your session try not to just jump up 
and rush back into your daily activities. Enjoy the 
space that has been created by your meditation, and 
arise. Perhaps you'll feel a little more fresh, clear, and 



peaceful than before you started. In daily life, you don't 
have to carry over any particular technique. Don't eat, 
drink, or walk like a zombie. You can just relax, and 
perhaps continue to allow your understanding to 
deepen. With a mind less busy with thoughts and chat- 
ter, you've created helpful space within yourself to 
carry forward into your day. You'll find it easier to be 
present both in terms of perceiving what's happening 
around you and also in communicating more clearly 
with others. It'll be easier to see thoughts and emotions 
for the distractions that they are. 

The instruction is really pretty simple: when you 
lose your mind, come back. When the horse runs away 
with you, bring it back to the trail. Be playful in this. 
Experiment with tuning in to your sense perceptions, 
for example, to bring the horse under control. Or prac- 
tice straightening your posture when you see that your 
mind has gone wild. Practice meeting the eyes of the 
person you're with and really listening to what they're 
saying instead of prefabricating your response as they 
speak. Use the mindfulness and awareness that you 
developed on the cushion to stay in the saddle of your 
life. Then see if you can appreciate these fruits of prac- 
tice without expectation or attachment. 

As meditation becomes part of your life, you might 
encounter obstacles and questions. It's helpful to have 
the support of more experienced practitioners who 



have come face-to-face with similar issues. A medita- 
tion instructor can give you tips on aspects of practice 
that you find difficult. Talking about your experiences 
with someone else and being part of a community of 
fellow meditators can be a tremendous support. In the 
back of this book is a list of resources that might help 
you in locating a meditation instructor. 



Mindfulness and 
Awar e ne s s 

The more consistency with which we practice bringing 
our mind back to the breath, the more we know that 
basic stability will be there when we sit down to medi- 
tate. How are we going to hold the mind to the breath? 
Just by taking our seat, we've got the wild horse 
saddled. Our tools in training it are mindfulness, trenpa, 
and awareness, dhedhin, "presently knowing." The 
power of mindfulness is that we can just bring our 
mind back to the breath; the power of awareness is that 
we know when to do it. Awareness knows when the 
horse has bolted, and tells mindfulness to bring it back. 

Bringing our minds back to the breath sounds 
simple, but when we start to practice it, we discover 
that it's quite the opposite. We're so thoroughly trained 
in following our thoughts that our mindfulness is weak. 



Our awareness isn't too strong, either. At the begin- 
ning, it's hard for us to see where we are and what 
we're doing. 

The good news is that mindfulness and awareness 
are intrinsic aspects of the mind — not something for- 
eign that we're trying to bring in. Mindfulness is what 
we use to hold our minds to any object — the breath, a 
rock, or a banana — and awareness is the intelligence 
that tells us what we're doing. Awareness is what tells 
us that the phone is ringing. When we answer the tele- 
phone, it's mindfulness that holds us to the voice at the 
other end long enough to know that our mother is call- 
ing. So in meditating properly, we're strengthening 
aspects of our mind that are already there. It's like 
working out. In developing mindfulness and aware- 
ness, the mind begins to feel its strength and its ability 
to simply be present. We begin to get a glimpse of the 
mind's natural stability. 

When I first started weight training, I could lift 
only a little bit. But with every repetition, I was building 
my strength. I didn't become strong from lifting one 
massive weight at once, but froin doing repetitions con- 
sistently and regularly and building strength over time. 
This is exactly how we strengthen mindfulness and 
awareness — through consistent and regular practice. 

As we begin to meditate, what we experience most is 
the movement of the wild-horse mind. We're following 



the breath and — whoa! — the horse has gone off the trail 
and we're lost in the bushes, about to go over a cliff. That 
ability to notice where we are is awareness. Like a spy 
on the lookout for trouble, it alerts mindfulness to come 
and do its job. Sitting tall in the saddle with the reins 
firmly in hand, we bring the horse back to the trail. In 
sync with the horse for a moment, we feel tremendous 
energy and clarity. This is a powerful experience. For a 
moment our mind can relax and expand out. 

Then whoa! — the stallion's caught the scent of a 
mare. He's been galloping up a hill for some distance 
before awareness kicks in and tells us that we're no 
longer on the trail. Our mind has drifted from the 
breath. We're thinking about the best way to make a 
salad, or carefully reviewing the last movie we saw. If 
we let ourselves sit there and think, we are ingraining 
discursiveness. How do we bring ourselves back to 
the breath? Time to apply mindfulness. Meditation is 

Mindfulness has three qualities: familiarity, remem- 
bering, and nondistraction. Developing these three 
qualities is how we learn to ride our wild-horse mind. 
The breath is a mechanism we use to practice centering 
our mind in the present moment. We begin by using it 
to become familiar with the mind's natural stability. 

At first we're not sure what the breath is, and some- 
times we're not able to recognize the present moment, 



either. Distractions keep pulling us away. After some 
practice we're able to recognize a thought, let it go, 
come back, and be present. Sometimes we feel that 
there is nothing to come back to, so we don't stay 
around for long. We say, "Nothing interesting here, 
might as well go back to Tasmania" — or wherever we 
thought we were before. If we don't become familiar 
with the inherent stability of the mind, there won't ever 
be anything interesting about coming back to the pres- 
ent moment. Well just be holding on by our fingernails 
because we think we have to. We know that acknowl- 
edging, recognizing, and releasing thoughts reduces 
discursiveness, but we also need positive reasons for 
coming back to the breath. 

This is the virtue of familiarity. Once we relax and 
get into the movement and rhythm of the breath, the 
present moment and the breath become very familiar. 
Our distractions and discursiveness are no longer quite 
so seductive. By training our horse consistently, we 
become intimate with how it feels to be peacefully rid- 
ing the trail. We'd rather return to the present moment 
than chase a thought, because we're becoming familiar 
with the stability of our mind and we enjoy it. It's relax- 
ing and comfortable to rest there, like going to our 
room to be alone when the house is full of people. 

The second aspect of mindfulness is remembering. 
Remembering has an unstudied quality, like not forget - 



ting our own face. It means we're so steady in our 
mindfulness that we always know what we're doing 
in the present moment; we're always remembering to 
hold our mind to the breath. If we're caught up in 
thought, we're forgetting that we're meditating. When 
we're replaying last night's hockey game in our head, 
we've lost our mindfulness. Remembering is like being 
in love. Wherever you go, your lover is always in the 
continuum of your mind. You're always conscious of 
who your lover is, where your lover is, and what your 
lover might be doing. 

In beginning meditation we experience the move- 
ment of the wild mind. As we develop mindfulness, 
becoming familiar with the breath and remembering 
to return, we finally settle into this continuous state of 
not forgetting. It takes regular practice. Before, the 
mind was scattered. As it stabilizes, its natural aspects 
arise. It has more energy to be where it is — which is 
mindfulness — and to know what it's doing — which is 
awareness. The stability provides a continuum that 
becomes a foundation for building strength. 

We see this strength in the third aspect of mindful- 
ness, which is nondistraction. As we develop nondis- 
traction, we place the mind on the breath and it stays. 
Though it's hard to imagine when we first begin to 
meditate, if we stick with our practice, our mind's ten- 
dency to fly like a horse out of the gate will disappear. 



The mind's natural stability and strength will shine 
through any potential distraction or discursiveness. It 
sees, it hears, it smells, it thinks, it feels — but it no 
longer chases wildly after these perceptions. It no longer 
jumps around. With the mental frequency no longer 
vibrating with movement, we experience the naturally 
even and immovable quality of the mind. 

When you're training a horse, at first you have to 
kick it to make it go left. Later all you have to do is 
make one little finger gesture and the horse immedi- 
ately does what you want. You're in tune with each 
other, and there's a sense of complete harmony. Riding 
doesn't exhaust you —just as meditating won't exhaust 
you. Once you develop this rapport with the horse, you 
can let the reins go. The horse will naturally veer away 
from branches; it will slow down if it's dangerous. With 
meditation we're developing the same kind of rapport 
and understanding with our mind. Once we've tamed 
our mind, it stays in the present moment. 

When we have developed the elements of familiar- 
ity, remembering, and nondistraction, we can say we 
are truly mindful. Our mindfulness is mature. We have 
windhorse— an uplifted feeling of discipline and 
delight. We're no longer so distracted that when we 
bring ourselves back to the breath, we have to hold on 
for dear life. We can see clearly what is. This clarity 
is able to perceive phenomena very directly. What 



usually hides it is the discursive activity of thoughts 
and emotions. As the chatter begins to dissipate, clarity 
" has an opportunity to arise. 

This quality of the mind is straightforward and 
vibrant. There's not a lot of thinking going on, and we 
perceive very clearly what is happening in our body 
and in the environment. The mind feels light— and at 
the same time it is not disturbed, because it is stable. 
We can experience this same clarity of mind in mun- 
dane situations— when the sun comes out after a storm, 
when we roll in the snow after taking a sauna. In Tibet 
people say that it's like taking a bath in milk. I went 
snorkeling recently, and it was a very vivid experience. 
My body felt light and buoyant, and there was a pene- 
trating clarity to the sunlight shining through the 
turquoise water on the fi sh and the coral. 

Mindfulness and awareness bring us into such a 
space, and as we stay there longer, that space gets big- 
ger and bigger. We have the ability to be intimate with 
the whole environment— our state of mind and the 
quality of our meditation. Our awareness is so keen 
that, like a sheriff in the Wild West, it can see trouble 
brewing before it even hits the horizon. Not only are 
we able to maintain our seat and keep the horse on the 
trail, we're also able to extend ourselves panoramically. 
Before it even arises, we can prevent a thought from 
destabilizing our mindfulness. This is how we prolong 



the continuity of peaceful abiding. At this point we can 
say, "I am mindful of the horse. I am mindful of my 
meditation. I am mindful of the present moment." 

Off the cushion, we're no longer lost in daydreams. 
We're mindful of our food and it tastes better. We're 
mindful of sounds — music is more beautiful. We're 
mindful of the people around us — we appreciate them 
more. We feel more alive and enthusiastic about life, 
because there's less buffer between ourselves and what's 
happening. Our mind is a powerful ally that helps us 
focus on what we need to do: study, play sports, cook. 
Everything we do seems more simple, straightforward, 
and clear. 

Total mindfulness means being completely in tune, 
kind of like the old spiritual jargon of "being one with" 
something. (However, in Buddhist terms, there is no 
"one" to be "with.") True mindfulness is no separation 
between here and there. It's a long way from the begin- 
ning of practice, but we can certainly aspire to reach 
the point where we can say, "I am the breath," as 
opposed to "I know the breath." The sense of separa- 
tion between our mind and the breath begins to dis- 
solve. At this stage there's nothing to hold on to; we 
transcend every reference point. The dualistic mind is 
dissolving. We experience unity with the breath. The 
less duality we experience, the less we will suffer. 
Eventually, our dualistic mind exhausts itself. We no 



longer need an object of meditation. The natural qual- 
ity of meditation relaxes into boundless, unimpeded 
freedom and space. The dualistic struggle is over. This 
is peace. 

Before we reach that point of unity with space, the 
mind has to be strong, stable, and clear. That's why we 
meditate. Generally speaking, the mind is always out- 
side or inside itself — "inside" in that it's self-obsessed, 
and "outside" in that it's always leaving. However, by 
developing mindfulness and awareness, the mind is 
being drawn back to itself in a positive way by settling, 
it becomes an ally. We're completely in tune and 
harmonious with it, and it's a joy and a relief to be 



How to Gather 
a Scattered Mind 

The bewildered mind spends much of its time racing 
from distraction to distraction, from sound to sight to 
smell, from feeling to desire to disappointment. It's in a 
constant state of flirtation. On any given day, our con- 
sciousness is fragmented and scattered in all directions. 
Yet when thunder shakes the sky, we're suddenly 
sharply focused. For a moment our scattered mind is 
gathered whole, placed fully on the sound. For a split 
second we are completely meditating on thunder. 

We practice peaceful abiding in order to cultivate 
that kind of one-pointed attention. It gives us the 
potential to have stronger, more focused access to 
whatever we're doing. We settle down to practice in 
order to draw in the scattered energy of the wild-horse 
mind. We're bringing the mind to attention. With 
mindfulness and awareness, we gently and precisely 



pry our mind away from fantasies, chatter, and subtle 
whispers of thoughts, placing it wholly here and now 
upon the breath. We do this because our scattered 
mind continually seduces us away from our stability, 
clarity, and strength. So we center ourselves in our mind 
and place that mind on the breath. We gather it to 
ground ourselves in a healthy sense of self — wholesome, 
balanced, confident, pliable. 

Gathering the mind is a gradual process. We can 
imagine the mind's activity as circles of light radiating 
outward. Peaceful abiding is like taking the dispersed 



light and gathering it into ourselves. As we gather it 
closer, it grows brighter. The outermost circle repre- 
sents our daily life. As we move in toward the center, 
we work with different levels of thoughts — from the 
gross to the subtle. The light grows gradually more 
focused. The point in the middle of the circle repre- 
sents the fortitude and clarity that underlie the wild- 
ness of our scattered mind. 

Shamatha practice begins with gathering ourselves 
at the outermost circle — who we are in our world. 
Sometimes when I'm instructing children I say, "Sit 
there and think about who you are. Think about what 
you like and what you don't like. Think about what it is 
to be mean and what it is to be kind." We should do this 
same kind of contemplation before placing our mind on 
the breath. Perhaps we've never before taken the time 
to see ourselves so clearly. Making our mind an ally 
requires self-awareness on every level. So after we sit 
down and before we begin practicing the technique, we 
should slow down and reflect on our presence in the 
world. We need to think for a few minutes about what 
we like and what we don't like, what we're worried 
about, and where in our lives we feel a sense of relief. 
This is how we cultivate self-awareness even at the 
outer ring of our lives. Having the patience and hon- 
esty to be self-aware is the basis of a healthy sense of 



self. We embody this healthiness in the meditation pos- 
ture: grounded, balanced, and relaxed. That's what we 
gather in the outer circle of shamatha. 

We take a step into the next circle when we begin to 
apply the technique, following the breath and acknowl- 
edging thoughts as they arise. As new meditators, 
we'll probably be surprised by how many thoughts we 
have. When we take our seats and rest our minds on the 
breath, the sheer volume of thoughts can be overwhelm- 
ing. This experience is so well documented by the lineage 
of meditators that it's traditionally described as a water- 
fall. We're more affected by the volume of water rushing 
over the falls than by our thoughts' variety or intricacies. 

Now we may think, "I wasn't this bewildered 
before. Meditation has made my state of mind worse. It 
was supposed to give me peace, liberation, and tran- 
quility, but now I'm more angry and irritated than 
ever." Either we're right, and meditation does increase 
mental activity — and all those practitioners over thou- 
sands of years, who were some of the most brilliant 
people ever, were wrong — or maybe we're just recog- 
nizing a level of thought and emotion that we had never 
stopped to notice before. This glimpse of our wild and 
overheated mind frightens us. Meditation is showing 
us the nature of the beast. This is why it takes courage 
to practice peaceful abiding. 



At first our practice revolves around just recogniz- 
ing the individual thoughts in the rush. Finding the 
breath within the torrent of thoughts might feel impos- 
sible. We know it's here somewhere, but when we look 
for it, we get lost and distracted by the waterfall. This 
stage is really important, worthy of appreciation. By 
recognizing the wildness of our mind, we begin to 
develop synergy with it. Seeing the torrential rain of 
thoughts is how we begin to train the horse. We can 
regard this as a positive experience, even though it may 
not feel that way. We can't possibly meditate without 
having first experienced the wildness of our mind. 

So we simply recognize those thoughts, and then 
we recognize them again. We're noticing the movement 
of our mind. Once we've recognized them, we begin to 
acknowledge them in passing: "Oh! A thought!" The 
point is to be quick and neutral. If we look at the 
thought slowly, deliberately, or judgmentally, we'll 
only add more thoughts to the process. That won't 
help. A thought has occurred — it is neither good nor 
bad. Recognizing and acknowledging brings us back to 
where we are, sitting on a cushion and trying to place 
our mind on the breath. We're learning how to cut 
through the discursiveness. 

At every stage, shamatha is a practice of noticing 
how the mind vibrates — how it creates story, speed, 
and solidity — and learning how to tune it to the present 



moment. As beginning practitioners, we're acutely 
aware of the movement of the mind. To recognize a 
thought is to see the mind vibrating. To acknowledge 
that we're thinking slows the movement down. When 
we recognize the mind's movement, we realize the 
possibility of peaceful abiding. When the mental fre- 
quency is no longer vibrating with movement, we 
experience the naturally even and immovable quality 
of the mind, if only for a moment. 

In gathering our scattered mind we begin to dis- 
cover who we really are right now, just by seeing that 
the web of thoughts we solidified as "me" is actually a 
series of vibrations. If we don't learn to see through 
this web, however, our continual dreamlike fabrication 
of "me" will continue to be our meditation. We could be 
enveloped in it for our whole life. Believing that thought 
patterns are a solid self is the source of our bewilder- 
ment and suffering. Seeing through this simple mis- 
understanding is the beginning of enlightenment. 

The meditation technique engenders clarity because 
in recognizing, acknowledging, and releasing thoughts, 
we realize that the mind's movement isn't "me." We 
don't have to cling to it as if it were a life raft. We'll still 
be here even if we let go. Releasing the thoughts and 
returning to the breath gives us a sense of space and 
relief. In that instant we are grounded, so to speak, 
because we can see ourselves as separate from our 



thoughts and emotions. There's distance between our- 
selves and our thoughts. 

Meditation allows us to relax our grip on "me" 
because we're able to see the thoughts not so much as 
our personal identity, but more as the effects of the 
speed of our mind. We gain perspective. We can see the 
thoughts come and go. We're not so limited by them. 
Suddenly everything falls into place. We might have 
spent our entire life —and many lifetimes over, accord- 
ing to the Buddhist teachings— identifying with the 
movement of our mind. Now mindfulness and aware- 
ness present us with the revolutionary opportunity to 
observe that movement without being swept into it. 

It reminds me of rock climbing. If you hold tight to 
the rock, your forearms lock up and you can't move. 
There's a paralyzed quality. But if you make some dis- 
tance between yourself and the rock by relaxing and 
leaning back, your muscles become flexible and work- 
able. You can make your way along the rock as well as 
see where you're going. In the same way, by putting 
distance between ourselves and our thoughts, our 
minds become more pliable and we have more clarity 
about our direction in life. 

Once we get the hang of acknowledging thoughts 
and placing our minds on the breath, we take a step in 
toward the center of the circle. Here we might meet the 



full-blown fantasy. A fantasy is a very large thought 
that has the power to take us far, far away from the 
present moment. It's like a story that we tell ourselves, 
a movie that we run, a soap opera that draws us in and 
puts us in a trance. Because it's potent and absorbing, 
we'd sometimes rather believe a fantasy than reality. 
Under its spell, we don't even remember that we're 

I once had a student who was in a three-year cabin 
retreat. At the end of one year, I went to his cabin to 
discuss his meditation. He told me about some of his 
experiences — various insights and images had come 
up — and he had several questions for me. He went into 
passionate detail about some of his ideas. He seemed 
to want me to confirm his experience. I listened and 
assured him that I found his revelations interesting. 
Without saying that he was right or wrong, I encour- 
aged him to keep practicing. 

A year later I paid him another visit. This time he 
was calmer, more relaxed. About the experiences he'd 
shared with me before, he said matter-of-factly, "Oh, I 
dropped all that. I realized it was just a giant thought. 
It lasted about a year, and in the past few months I've 
just seen it for what it was and let it go. It felt like dis- 
persing a cloud." He seemed much more at ease with 
himself, as if he'd made an important and courageous 



discovery. And he had: thoughts can last for a long time 
before we recognize them, but if we keep practicing, 
we will see them for what they are. 

If we're fantasizing about going on a long holiday 
canoeing on the Amazon River, we can see the foliage 
and taste what we're going to eat at the next meal, but 
it may take a very long time to notice what we're doing 
with our minds. When we begin to meditate, we can 
consider ourselves well-trained if we're just able to see 
that we're fantasizing, even if we're caught up for most 
of a meditation session. Sooner or later we see how 
fantasy — about food, sex, revenge, who said what to 
whom, or what we're going to do when we're finished 
practicing — has the power to take over our mind. We 
begin to see how fantasy can continually keep us from 
the present moment, how it steals our ability to focus, 
to move forward in our training. At the end of the ses- 
sion, we can ask ourselves, "How much of the time was 
I actually here? How many countries and how many 
people did I visit?" A great deal of the session will have 
been about dealing with those wild, very intricate 
thoughts. We use the technique of holding our mind to 
the breath to help steady us enough to deal with the 
wild thoughts. Learning to recognize the fantasy and 
release ourselves from it is how we build up some kind 
of strength. 



The instruction for working with a fantasy is just 
like the instruction for working with any other thought. 
As soon as we notice this kind of distraction taking 
place, we acknowledge it as "thinking" and kiss it 
good-bye. We have to say good-bye to that very potent 
thought that might hold all the anger we've cooked up, 
or all the sexual energy, or all the insecurity. Still, we 
acknowledge it and return to the breath if we can. 

Sometimes it's just asking too much of ourselves to 
be that precise. Holding the mind too tightly can be 
harmful. When our control is too tight, the mind will 
bolt at the earliest opportunity. Fantasy takes us so far 
away — having a romantic vacation in Tahiti, fighting 
with our mother in another state — that we aren't even 
aware of our body, not to mention the breath. Sud- 
denly dropping a very big thought for the immediacy of 
the breath can be too harsh. In working with large 
thoughts, upsizing the object of our meditation offers a 
more gentle approach. We can change the size of the 
pasture for the horse. 

One way to work with large thoughts is simply to 
bring yourself back to the room you're sitting in. Try to 
remain present in the room and let the environment 
ground you until you feel yourself in your body. Then 
reconnect with the breathing. If there are small thoughts 
coming up, we might appreciate them, "Before, I was 



thinking about being at the North Pole. Now I'm won- 
dering what's for dinner. That's an improvement." And 
it is: at least we're here. If we have a couple of smaller 
thoughts, that's not a problem. We are at least domewhat 
here. Coming back in stages and gradually re-engaging 
the breath is one of the most effective ways to work 
with fantasies. 

Fantasies play a large supporting role in maintain- 
ing the "have a nice day" approach. They feed on hope 
and fear, which creates worry. We don't need to spend 
our meditation worrying. Worrying and anxiety lead 
to stress, and stress causes suffering. The suffering 
created by hope and fear routinely clouds our percep- 
tion of what is happening in the present moment. We're 
busy spinning out best- and worst-case scenarios, 
rather than relaxing where we are. 

Our root fantasy is that "I" am real and that there's 
a way to make "me" happy. The reason we meditate is 
to let that fantasy unravel. After a while, we notice that 
much of what we took to be real and permanent about 
ourselves isn't so solid — it's a string of thoughts we 
hold together with tremendous effort. We've built an 
identity out of a thin web of concepts. It can be as 
simple as thinking that we'll be happy if we just get 
what we want. 

As we venture into the next circle of shamatha, we 
encounter strong emotions. Even in our most tranquil, 



open-minded state, it is hard to work with emotions. So 
first we slow down, breathe, and stabilize our mind. 
Then we can take one of two approaches. The first one 
depends on our ability to stick with the technique. If 
we've developed our practice to the point where we 
can just breathe and let a strong emotion go, that's 
what we should do. Relying on our stable mind, we can 
let the power of our meditation bring us back to the 
breath, which gives us space. Then the emotion begins 
to lose its grip. 

The other approach is to dismantle the emotion by 
contemplating it. Dismantling is grounded in knowing 
that no matter how solid the emotion feels, it's fabri- 
cated. Everything in the world is made of parts, and 
emotion is no different. The most painful, powerful 
aspect of negative emotions is that they seem complete 
and whole. A thought builds into a crescendo called 
emotion, which we then embody. The tight ball of 
hatred, desire, or jealousy feels so solid that we actually 
feel it in our body as a lump in our throat, a rising wave 
of heat, an aching heart. When we're caught up in neg- 
ativity, it's hard to imagine penetrating it, cracking its 
shell. If we're caught in hatred, for example, it pos- 
sesses us totally — body, speech, and mind. Even if we 
don't act it out by shouting at someone or slamming a 
door, we let it burn like a wildfire in our mind, stoking 
it with thoughts of aggression, the desire to do harm. 



Let's say we're flying in an airplane. In one moment 
the flight attendant is serving us food and drink, and 
in the next the airplane makes a sudden drop. One 
minute we feel safe, then fear is all there is. Even 
though the pilot quickly regains control of the plane, it 
takes us a long time to regain control of our mind. Even 
when we're safely on the ground, the fear is so solid 
that we feel nervous about flying again. 

Especially as we develop stability and balance, we 
begin to see how our mind forms itself into various 

An emotion that feels as big as a house can be dis- 
mantled brick by brick. In dismantling, we use the 
emotion as the object of meditation. Emotion is a 
response to something or somebody. It isn't premedi- 
tated or logical in any way. The way dismantling works 
is that we engage the missing element: reason. We 
begin investigating the feeling: "Why am I jealous? 
What has made me feel this way?" For a moment we 
rest our mind on these questions instead of the breath. 
The more reason we have, the more effective our abil- 
ity to dismantle will be. In contemplating the reasons 
that our negative emotions have come together — and 
how they create pain, suffering, and anxiety — we can 
begin to take them apart. With reason we see the 
source of the emotion: what somebody said to us, the 
disappointment of an expectation we were holding. 



Maybe the reason isn't a person, but an object — a 
chair or a car or a piece of clothing or food is behind 
our desire or hatred or jealousy. When we contem- 
plate the emotion, we begin to see that the person or 
object is not the reason for what we feel. We're the rea- 
son. The emotion is a creation of our mind. We've 
turned a thought into a seemingly solid entity and held 
on to it. 

In every emotional situation, there's a subject, an 
object, and an action. For example, riding in a car in 
India is a frustrating experience. The roads are barely 
wide enough for one car, and they're very bumpy. 
When you're stuck behind a slow truck that's spewing 
diesel smoke — as it seems they all do — there's every 
reason to want to pass, but it's rarely possible. You 
become obsessed with the road, the truck, and your 
desire, and after a while all you can think about is how 
angry you are. When you finally pass, you see that the 
truck driver is just a poor man trying to eke out a liv- 
ing. Your anger lightens immediately. 

In this situation, the subject is "me," the object is 
the truck, and the action is being stuck behind it. The 
pain of the situation is also the object. You're angry at 
the truck for being where it is, and at yourself for being 
where you are. You're also angry at being stuck in traf- 
fic, and you're angry at being angry. These are the 
components of this emotion. 



As we think about these components, the anger 
falls apart. The thought draws us closer to the anger, 
which is important: keeping our distance from emotion 
has a solidifying effect. By contemplating it, we begin 
to weaken its power to hold us captive, which creates 
space. The coolness of reason — looking at the emotion, 
questioning where it came from, seeking the source, 
investigating the object — dissipates the heat of the 
emotion. We begin to wonder why we invest so much 
energy in this feeling that we've created with our own 
mind. The bottom line is that everything comes 
together, and everything falls apart. Slowly we regain 
perspective, calm, composure, and dignity. We see that 
there is no anger, no desire, no attachment. Our mind 
feels lighter, and we can once again place it on the 

Sometimes neither letting go nor dismantling works. 
We're too traumatized to use intelligence or logic, 
or to recognize and release. We're totally possessed, 
and contemplating the emotion only inflames it fur- 
ther. We're too close to the action. It's too soon to 
investigate the scene of the accident. In this case we 
need to calm down and relax. The best thing might be 
to get involved in a soothing activity: go for a walk, 
take a shower, read a book, talk to a friend, watch a 
movie. When we're calmer, we can come back to the 



cushion. Knowing when we can meditate is honest 

In the next circle of shamatha we meet discursive 
thoughts or wildness. These thoughts are distracting, 
but not nearly as powerful or disruptive as fantasies or 
strong emotions. Discursiveness is the chatter that con- 
stantly clutters our minds, the routine mental buzz. It's 
made of random, nonassociated thoughts as opposed to 
fully drawn-out story lines. Even though it's more per- 
meable than fantasy or strong emotion, this ordinary 
discursiveness is adept at keeping us trapped in "me." 
It's like a low-level hum that obscures our natural clar- 
ity. As we meditate, we can bounce back and forth in 
our mind about what's going on at school or work, con- 
versations we had— or would like to have — plans for 
the rest of the day, and basically still be aware that 
we're meditating. Occasionally we surface from these 
excursions into the past and future by returning to the 
breath, but then the movement of our mind invites us 
to wander off again. 

Discursiveness feels like flipping through television 
channels: an old movie here, sports there, a soap opera 
over there, and now the news. We might experience it 
as the nagging desire to scratch our nose, or as wonder- 
ing how many minutes before our session's over. Dis- 
cursiveness has the quality of high vibration, which has 



a peculiarly deadening effect. At the end of twenty 
minutes of meditation it can leave you thinking, "What 
was tkatV 

In working with discursiveness, we might be 
tempted to be loose in our control. However, it's essen- 
tial to repeatedly place our mind on the breath. Recog- 
nize the thought, acknowledge it, let it dissolve, and 
return to the breath. This breaks up the river of discur- 
siveness. Don't think about what kind of thought 
you're having — just see it for what it is, and place your 
mind elsewhere. Experiencing the mind's movement at 
this level is much of our training in shamatha. Working 
steadily with wild chatter in meditation makes main- 
taining mindfulness much easier to do during daily life. 

In working with discursiveness, our practice be- 
comes very precise. This precision takes us to the 
innermost circle of peaceful abiding, where we become 
aware of very subtle thoughts arising in our stillness. 
It's like standing next to an iced-over mountain stream; 
we hear water popping up in tiny bubbles. The thoughts 
come through like whispers. In our steady mindfulness 
of the breath, a little voice breaks through, "Am I doing 
this right? I feel chilly." Even though the surface is still, 
there is an ongoing flow of water gurgling beneath. We 
call these "subtle thoughts." 

As long as we stay focused on the breath, we can 
just let these thoughts arise and fall. Subtle thoughts 

74 ■ 


will naturally dissolve. Indulging these subtle move- 
ments by giving them any attention at all tends to 
strengthen them and actually create disturbance in our 
mind. At some point, of course, we will have to deal 
with them. But in the early stages of shamatha, we 
build another kind of strength by relaxing into the 
breathing. This allows the natural stillness of the mind 
to develop. Continually placing our mind on the breath 
decreases the movement of thoughts, which further 
calms the mind. Experiencing the stability and joy of 
our mind becomes much more appealing than listen- 
ing to our mental chatter. We see that the experience 
of peaceful abiding is simply a gradual reduction of 
thoughts. At the center of the circles, we meet our mind 
abiding in basic goodness. 



The Virtues of Boredom 

In the Shambhala community, we have as part of our 
curriculum a one-month program in which partici- 
pants practice peaceful abiding all day, with walking- 
meditation breaks and Shambhala yoga. They take 
their meals in the Japanese monastic style called oryoki. 
This means being silent and meditating for about 
twelve hours a day. All sorts of funny and interesting 
things happen over the course of a month, both inside 
the mind and within the community — everything from 
fantasies about a person sitting across the room to 
meditation-hall giggle fits. These waves of energy are 
reflections of people struggling with boredom. 

The fear of boredom often keeps people from medi- 
tation. I hear it all the time, "You mean I'm just sup- 
posed to sit there doing nothing? I'll be bored to 
death! " We're afraid there will be nothing to entertain 



us, nothing to hold our interest. In meditation, we're 
isolating ourselves. First we isolate the body in a very 
quiet place with as little external stimulation as pos- 
sible. We place it on a cushion in a very simple posture. 
Then we isolate our mind. We place it upon the breath 
and practice keeping it there. Eventually we reduce the 
number of thoughts. If we're able to slow down and 
abide in our internal space, we'll begin to appreciate 
the lack of stimulation in meditation compared to the 
chaos of normal life. But we will be bored at times, 
because we won't always want to be where we are. 

Sometimes boredom helps us enjoy the simplicity of 
meditation. At other times boredom is a threat to our 
practice, a no-man's-land where we're unable to fully 
experience peaceful abiding. Being bored may even 
incite us to walk away from the cushion. 

There are several kinds of boredom. One kind of 
boredom has an undercurrent of anxiety. We're not 
altogether comfortable with ourselves. When we sit 
down to meditate, we suddenly have no external 
amusement. Our senses are habituated to speed and 
stimulation. Without being stimulated, we find no way 
to satisfy ourselves. We feel stir crazy, like a child with 
nothing to do. The agitation wants to reach for some- 
thing to fill the space. If we were waiting at the airport 
or the doctor's office, we'd reach for a magazine, the 
cell phone, or a computer game. But in meditation 



there's nothing to reach for. We try to cope by mak- 
ing our own entertainment. Instead of following the 
breath, we'll amuse ourselves with a little sound or the 
movements of an insect. Watching others meditate in 
front of us can seem as interesting as a full-length 
feature film. 

Another kind of boredom is rooted in fear. We're 
afraid of being left alone with ourselves because we're 
not able to relax with our mind. It's like sitting next to 
an acquaintance at a dinner party, having heard that 
his wife has just left him and that no one's supposed to 
know. We feel awkward and uncomfortable. We're 
wary of opening a conversation because we're afraid of 
where it might lead. Just so, in meditation we're fearful 
because we're not accustomed to resting with no activ- 
ity. It's too quiet. We're not sure we want to know what 
will happen if we totally let go into the space. We want 
to maintain our comfort zone. We're unable to go 
deeper with ourselves, and there's nothing else to do. 
The result is fearful boredom. This fear comes from not 
being able to imagine the mind at peace. 

These first two kinds of boredom contain a slight 
quality of aggression that keeps us from practicing 
properly. We want things to be different from how they 
are. We've been sitting there in meditation waiting for 
something to happen or not to happen, and we feel 
angry and frustrated at our predicament. We can take 



another approach by observing the boredom and letting 
ourselves taste it completely. This is a good way to 
gauge our progress. Look how far we've come: in the 
beginning we couldn't sit still, we didn't like our water- 
fall of thoughts, and we could barely fight the constant 
urge to get up and do something else. We thought of 
washing the dishes, making lists of what we needed to 
do at work, and of returning phone calls. Our mind was 
so speedy that our body wanted to get off the cushion to 
relieve the pressure. Now things move a little more 
slowly, and the impulses to move don't seem as strong. 
We're faced with the boring quality of meditation and it 
makes us want to quit. If we don't give in to this 
impulse, we'll begin to reap the benefits of boredom. 

We start to do this when we settle in to our bore- 
dom. We're stuck on the cushion where nothing is 
going to happen, and we know it, so we begin to just 
settle in. We may sink into ourselves and become some- 
what glazed over. The world feels distant and fuzzy. 
Perhaps we don't quite embrace our practice, but we 
are able to relax enough to experience the dullness 
without grasping at amusement or pushing away the 
space. We've begun to accept boredom as part of the 
landscape of peaceful abiding. That's progress. 

What are we bored with when we meditate? It's not 
peaceful abiding, even though meditation may be the 
trigger. What we're really bored with is our repetitive 



thought patterns. Even though they've become pre- 
dictable and transparent to us, somehow they keep 
arising. We see how we get hooked into chasing fan- 
tasies and schemes that have as much substance as last 
night's dream. We discover that the thought, "What's 
for lunch?" never tastes anything like the meal. We see 
that philosophizing about practice can't hold a candle 
to being grounded in the present moment. After a while 
our boredom takes on a seasoned quality. It's no longer 
needy; it's spacious, comfortable, and soothing. My 
father called this "cool boredom." This is a break- 
through. We've discovered that meditation isn't going 
to fulfill our need for entertainment or fortify our com- 
fort zone. In order to make that discovery, we need to 
be thoroughly bored. 

Being fully bored with our wild mind and continu- 
ing to apply the technique represents the point at 
which we personally commit to the practice of peaceful 
abiding. We see the tricks we play on ourselves with 
thoughts, emotions, and concepts. All of it is boredom — 
our need for entertainment, our fear of our own alone- 
ness, any desire we have to gain something from 
meditation. This boredom is not a problem. It inspires 
us because we don't feel trapped oh the cushion any- 
more; we see how our mind works and we feel enthu- 
siastic about developing an alliance with it. We can 
relax. Seeing the process of mind clearly is what 



strengthens our commitment to practice. A certain joy 
develops because we're no longer resisting any part of 
the landscape. 

I remember once participating in a ritual that lasted 
several weeks with His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rin- 
poche. We were sitting in a very hot meditation hall, 
listening to him read from a text for about eleven hours 
a day. This is called "oral transmission," and it's an 
important ceremony. We sat cross-legged on mats 
while volume after volume was read aloud in such 
rapid-fire Tibetan that it was nearly impossible to 
follow. People fidgeted and whispered, and some of 
the young monks in the back got into rice-throwing 
wars. We didn't know how long it would take to read 
through this text, but each day we hoped the next day 
would be the last. 

Over the course of about two weeks we watched 
the stack of texts gradually grow smaller until finally 
only one volume remained. We were sure that there 
would only be one more day of the oral transmission, 
and we were ecstatic. It was unbearably hot and 
humid, and we hadn't had a day off to rest or get to 
the store or even wash our clothes. We were all so 
exhausted by the end of each day that we'd just fall 
into bed. 

On the last day, we awaited the closing announce- 
ments. We were in fpr a surprise. Rinpoche told us that 



we were very fortunate because the final missing vol- 
umes of the text had been found. The ceremonies and 
the reading went on for another week or so, and there 
was nothing left to do but relax and enjoy being there. 

Sometimes we just can't settle in. If boredom starts 
taking its toll with the result that we want to avoid 
meditating, we need to do something to counter that 
pattern. We can start by experimenting with our prac- 
tice. We can focus on different aspects of the practice 
at different times. One day we can highlight awareness 
of the posture. We follow the breath and recognize 
thoughts, but we pay extra attention to the body. At 
another time we can become intimate with the process 
of breathing. In the next session we can sharpen our 
ability to spot thoughts or to cut through a chain of 
discursiveness that's taken us on vacation to the 
Himalayas. Then we might focus on the recognizing 
process — on spotting the tail end of a thought, for 
example. By emphasizing different components of the 
technique, we are strengthening mindfulness and 
awareness. Of course, another aspect of this mobility in 
practice is knowing when to return to the simple 
instructions and put precise focus on the breath. 

Everyone has days when practice is difficult and 
boring. It can help to be aware of our state of mind 
before taking our seat When we enter a session of 
meditation and can sense that we're totally distracted, 



for example, we might try sitting down on the cushion 
and thinking away. We can think about whatever diffi- 
culty we're facing and let the thoughts and fantasies 
play out. But we do it with awareness. Then after ten 
minutes of thinking, we place our mind on the breath. 

Sometimes reason and antidotes seem to have no 
effect. During these periods we need to dig deep and 
find the strength to continue, or examine our life to see 
if the pain or the intensity we experience in meditation 
stems from difficulties elsewhere. Shamatha is not an 
endurance test, nor will it suddenly solve all our prob- 
lems. But it does help us see how our problems arise, 
because it trains us in recognizing thoughts and emo- 
tions. It also trains us in letting them pass without act- 
ing on them. 

Even when we're bored, we can work with our 
minds. This helps us cope in daily life. Because practice 
has enlarged our perspective beyond identifying with 
our thoughts and opinions, we're less likely to act 
from a tight, self-protected space. We have more 
patience, more tolerance. We're more able to put our- 
selves in someone else's shoes. In this way, meditation 
matures us. 


La z i n e s s 

About twenty years ago, my father and I visited the 
samurai lineage master Shibata Sensei, my Japanese 
archery (kyudo) teacher. Shibata Sensei is the Imperial 
Bow .Maker to the emperors of Japan. His responsi- 
bilities include performing a ritualized ceremony at a 
famous shrine where his family has been making offer- 
ings for generations. The year I was visiting, Sensei 's 
son, heir to the family lineage, was going to shoot the 
ceremonial arrow before the shrine. But he had badly 
cut his finger while making a bow just days before the 
ceremony, and was unable to shoot. 

At about five A.M. on the ceremonial day I was 
awakened and told that I was to perform the ceremony 
as a representative of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage 
and Sensei's family. I thought they were joking. While 
I had been practicing archery for many years, I had 



no idea how to perform the elaborately choreographed 
bows and gestures in this particular ceremony. 

By the time I was ready to go, Sensei had already 
headed over to the shrine. I couldn't believe this was 
happening. I was going to be the first non-Shibata to 
make an offering at this shrine, and I had no idea what 
I was doing. When I arrived, people started dressing 
me in official robes. It was like being dressed for a play 
without knowing my lines. There were hundreds of 
dignitaries, spectators, and photographers out there 
waiting to begin. I tried to ask for some instructions, 
but no one could explain the whole thing in a hurry. 
I decided just to do my best. 

As it turned out, Sensei had organized things so 
that he would be my assistant. He said that if I made 
the wrong move, he would be there to whisper direc- 
tions to me — but he barely knew any English. So we 
went through the ceremony with him whispering 
"Left, bow, right, bow . . . move fan, bow," and I shot 
the ritual arrow. In the end it all worked out, and I 
couldn't believe that I had done it. Sensei was so happy 
that afterward he took me out to lunch at his favorite 
noodle shop. 

The power of being put on the spot like this was 
that it took me beyond the limits of what I thought I 
could do. We need this same kind of challenge in our 
practice, because our natural state lies beyond the 



reach of what we conceptually know. The reason we 
work so hard to gather our minds is in effect so we can 
relax. By releasing the web of beliefs and concepts that 
holds our sense of self solid, we're softening the ground 
of basic goodness so that love and compassion can 
break through. If we meditate long enough, we'll dis- 
cover no shortage of obstacles to this process. 

Obstacles are habitual patterns that keep our minds 
small, fixed, and solid. If we want our minds to be soft 
and pliable, we will need to know how to work with 
them. There are outer obstacles like laziness — common 
laziness, disheartenment, and speedy busyness. These 
have the power to keep us from ever reaching the cush- 
ion. Then, once we make it to our seat, there are inner 
obstacles such as forgetting the instructions, elation, 
and laxity. 

Like weeding a garden, dealing with obstacles is an 
ongoing aspect of meditation. Working with these chal- 
lenges on the cushion is another way we build confi- 
dence and courage to go further. We can be grateful for 
obstacles, because they push us forward in our prac- 
tice. After a while it is even possible to feel a spark of 
delight when we see an obstacle coming up, because 
we know it's an opportunity to keep sharpening our 
minds. The more obstacles we face, the more confi- 
dence we feel to deal with them. 



One of the most challenging obstacles for a begin- 
ning meditator is laziness. Laziness can be an obstacle 
even before we reach our seat, because it can keep us 
from ever getting there. The Tibetan word for laziness 
is Lelo, which is pronounced 'lay low." In any culture, 
laziness means lying as low as possible. Laziness has a 
draining quality, as if we're low in life force. Sometimes 
it's hard to see it because it feels like who we are. It 
encroaches on our most intimate ground. It manifests 
as an allegiance to comfort. We may get plenty of sleep, 
but we're completely uninspired. We'd rather lie around 
on a couch watching television, or read a magazine and 
pass out on the floor. 

I have a friend who's particularly susceptible to 
attacks of basic laziness. For example, one day when 
we were relaxing together, he decided to take a rest on 
the couch. He poured himself a drink, placed it on the 
coffee table, and then lay down on the sofa. After a few 
minutes of lying there, he realized he'd placed his glass 
on the far side of the table, out of reach. Instead of sit- 
ting up and picking up his glass, he found a clothes 
hanger that was wedged between the cushions and 
hooked the leg of the coffee table with it to drag the 
table closer. Predictably, the drink fell off the table. We 
often expend much more energy being lazy than it 
would take to deal with our life straightforwardly. 



We have to understand that from a meditative point 
of view, laziness is a particular way of holding the 
mind. The mind has withdrawn into itself. In its more 
extreme versions — when we are really lazy — the whole 
world seems very distant. It seems impossible to do 
anything. We feel like a snake crawling along the 
ground. Everything else is in the treetops, up high and 
far away. If someone says, "Why don't you do some- 
thing?" we feel irritated and upset. We can't deal. 
We're all dug in, like an animal in a hole. We're not 
interested in exterior things. Our mind is encapsulated 
in itself. 

If we're feeling lazy, even if we somehow make it 
to our seat, we'll spend the session avoiding the basic 
technique. We don't even have the energy to sit up 
straight. We can't practice properly. We think, "I just 
don't want to do it. I don't have time. " Worse yet, "I 
don't really need to do it. " Whatever we're telling our- 
selves, at the root of laziness lies attachment. We're 
attached to the comfort of familiar fantasies and discur- 
sive thoughts; we prefer them to the wakeful quality of 
following the instructions with precision. 

This pattern is an obstacle to meditation. If we 
don't see it, we can get stuck in laziness for a long 
time — even years. It's especially insidious because we 
lull ourselves into believing that a certain amount 
of thinking is okay. If we have a major thought or 



daydream, we usually recognize it and acknowledge 
it. But one of the symptoms of laziness is that we let 
a whole middle range of thoughts pass. We feel that 
it's just too much to meditate for the whole twenty 
minutes or half an hour, so we'll use fifteen minutes 
to think about what a great time we had at last 
night's party, or to plan today's outing. We think, "No 
one knows what I'm doing with my mind, so I'll use 
the time to plan. Then I'll meditate for five or ten 
minutes just to make myself feel better." It's like going 
into a supermarket just to buy corn on the cob and 
potato chips and then wandering the aisles to look 
for other items. When we let ourselves hang out in dis- 
cursive chatter, we're wandering around snacking in 
our minds. If we allow ourselves to hang out there for 
long, our whole meditation will eventually consist of 
middle-range thoughts that are seemingly not all that 

When my mother moved from India to the United 
States, she was amazed by the vastness of our super- 
markets and intrigued by all the products available. 
What most surprised her were the aisles of pet food. 
She was a little shocked at the amount of attention paid 
to the culinary needs of cats and dogs and the money 
spent on satisfying them. In India, a dog is fortunate to 
be given leftover rice. Many a dog in India spends its 
whole life prowling for food. 



If we have a tendency to prowl through our minds 
in meditation, we should tell ourselves before sitting 
down that we're not going to be seduced by our discur- 
siveness. When we find ourselves doing it, we need 
to acknowledge that we're doing something besides 
meditating, and that it isn't benefiting our meditation. 
We have to recognize, acknowledge, and release these 
middle-range thoughts. Unless it's a thought like, "I 
smell smoke. Is the house on fire?" we should return 
our mind to the breath. The thoughts, the brilliant 
ideas, and the decisions to be made will still be around 
when we've finished meditating. 

Laziness also manifests as busyness. Speediness is 
laziness when we use it as a way to avoid working with 
our minds. When we first begin to meditate, we're 
enthusiastic about rearranging our priorities around a 
daily practice. What we don't count on is the force of 
habit. Staying busy can be a way to avoid meditation. 
All of a sudden, right before we mean to meditate, sud- 
denly we need to tend to little tasks — watering plants, 
brushing our teeth, checking our e-mail. Not only that, 
we need to do these tasks right now. This is speedy 
laziness — better known as procrastination. This force 
can become especially compelling when shamatha prac- 
tice provides a glimpse of how naturally open and joy- 
ous our minds truly are. Resisting our own openness 
by spinning the stories that keep us in the comfort zone 



of "me" is a very old and well-established habitual pat- 
tern. Procrastination is one way of choosing to abide 
in distraction rather than to relax into the peace of 
our mind. 

Another way we procrastinate is by using seem- 
ingly worthy activities to avoid meditating. Perhaps 
we're even helping animals or other people. Even 
though these activities are beneficial to others, if we 
want to meditate and we're using them as an excuse not 
to, we need to look at it clearly by asking, "Is my 
lifestyle supporting my practice? Are my activities ben- 
eficial in terms of meditation?" 

Obviously, meditation can sometimes be difficult. 
We may want to run away from practice, run from the 
cushion, even run from the word "meditation." We can 
run as far as we like, but what we'll discover is that 
there is no better environment than meditation in 
which to build the stability, clarity, and strength of our 
mind. At the same time, the difficulty of making it to 
the cushion, the difficulty of staying with the tech- 
nique, the difficulty of abandoning discursiveness, isn't 
going to disappear. In procrastinating, we're avoiding 
the one thing that really is going to make a difference in 
our lives. Meditation stabilizes us in our inherent 
power as humans. It introduces the possibility of living 
our lives in a continually conscious, confident, and bal- 
anced state of mind. 



Another kind of laziness is disheartenment. We feel 
discouraged, deflated, or outnumbered by the obstacles 
that arise in our practice. We take them personally. 
Our belief in the solidity of the obstacles grows, and 
our belief in our ability to practice shrinks. We say, 
"How can I possibly develop an ongoing meditation 
practice?" If we are already meditating, we say, "How 
can I possibly finish this session?" Before we know it, 
we feel hopeless about meditating. 

When my father passed away in 1987, His Holiness 
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche led the traditional funeral 
rites. Afterward he recommended that we build a 
108- foot tall stupa in the Rocky Mountains to com- 
memorate my father's years of work in introducing 
Buddhism to North America and teaching meditation 
to Westerners. A stupa is a traditional sacred structure 
representing the enlightened mind of the Buddha. 
Building one involves following many intricate and 
precise traditional specifications. We felt slightly over- 
whelmed by the complexity of the project, the first of 
its magnitude in North America. We started building it 
in 1988, continuing to work on it every summer. 

Each year we had to gather all kinds of resources. 
Hundreds of hands-on volunteers were involved. The 
people closest to the project had to dig deep into their 
own resources, spending cold winters and hot summers 
in the Rockies over a thirteen-year period. In a sense 



we learned how to build the stupa as we built it. The 
engineering, the construction, the finances, and the 
traditional artwork — all of these elements presented 
daunting challenges. What spurred us on was our trust 
that this symbol of enlightenment would be of great 
benefit to everyone. As the stupa took form, our confi- 
dence and energy increased. Watching it rise into space 
little by little, we overcame our doubt and hesitation. 
In the summer of 2001 the stupa was complete, and we 
held a beautiful consecration ceremony attended by 
thousands of people. We had encountered all kinds of 
obstacles, but our inspiration was an antidote to all 
of them. 

The teachings on obstacles and antidotes come 
from a very long lineage of meditators in India and 
Tibet. We're fortunate that they documented the diffi- 
culties so well, because even though the conditions in 
which we practice might differ greatly from theirs, the 
obstacles that arise on the path of meditation have 
never changed. Luckily, the antidotes have also passed 
the test of time and space. 

Laziness is a symptom that we've lost connection 
with the courage that brought us to the cushion in the 
first place. We no longer understand why we're medi- 
tating. We feel slightly threatened by letting go of the 
comfort of thought patterns. Meditation goes against 
the grain of habits we've accumulated for a long, long 



time. Most of these habits concern the perpetual cre- 
ation of "me." We're habitually indentured to fabricat- 
ing projections, scenarios, opinions, and story lines that 
we use to hold our creation together. With meditation it 
can feel as if we're falling apart. Old habits can start to 
look very comforting, because they represent who we 
think we are. We find ourselves reverting to ingrained 
patterns in order to strengthen that self -created con- 
cept of "me." Meditation is about seeing through the 
contrived sense of "me" as the enlightened aspects of 
the mind reveal themselves. We have to let that fabri- 
cation dissipate in order to go forward, and it makes 
us feel uneasy. 

What the meditators of old discovered is that the 
key to success in meditation lies in connecting with a 
bigger view. They suggest four ways in which we can 
inspire ourselves — suppleness, trust, aspiration, and 


A lazy mind is a mind that has become small and fix- 
ated. Meditation doesn't fit in with our habitual pat- 
terns, so we resist it. A supple mind has many more 
possibilities because it is flexible. It doesn't look at the 
world from the closed system of "me, " so it's no longer 



bound by the constrictions of maintaining its own com- 
fort zone. In Tibetan the word for this kind of mind is 
dhinjang, meaning "thoroughly trained. " Two qualities of 
the shinjang mind are pliability and interest. This mind 
is curious. It doesn't fall into laziness and the other 
obstacles because it knows how to stay open. That's the 
point of meditation, isn't it? We want to develop an 
open, interested, flexible mind. When we have a supple 
mind, obstacles to our meditation don't occur. 

Our minds become more supple as we develop our- 
selves on the meditation seat. Each time we acknowl- 
edge a fantasy or thought, we're softening up our mind 
by becoming less bound to concepts and emotions. 
Following the technique fosters curiosity instead of 
dullness, appreciation instead of disheartenment, and 
imagination instead of limitation. 

In order to overcome laziness, we need to have a 
relatively open mind from the very beginning. We need 
to be curious, to have a sense of appreciation and imag- 
ination. We need to inspire ourselves. For example, we 
might not feel like going for a hike, but when a friend 
shows us a picture of an amazing mountain, its beauty 
inspires us; it breaks through our laziness. Before, our 
mind was closed — now there's workability. We're rous- 
ing windhorse by stepping out of that sunken state of 
mind. In the same way, we can overcome laziness by 
being open and imaginative. 




When we've heard the teachings and also experienced 
their true meaning — that to practice shamatha is to 
abide peacefully — a certain faith develops. This isn't 
blind faith. It's based on our own relationship with 
meditation. We have faith in a practice that we've 
experienced ourselves. 

We take trust from clarity and confidence. Perhaps 
a moment of clarity is what inspired us to practice in 
the first place. We saw a statue of the Buddha, read a 
book, or even saw a friend meditating, and we had an 
immediate sense of clarity about wanting to do this. 
Having tested shamatha through discipline and precise 
attention, we know that we can trust the technique. 
We're clear about how it works because we've done it 
ourselves. We've seen how stiff, wild, and raw our 
mind is. We've had moments of peacefully abiding. 
We've seen that our mind doesn't always have to be a 
nuisance. We've felt the openness of our hearts under- 
neath the hardness of habitual pattern. We're con- 
stantly reevaluating and deepening our understanding 
of meditation, because it goes awry very quickly. This 
process builds confidence. We can use this trust to 
remind ourselves of why we should practice even when 
we don't want to. 



Inspiration is an immediate longing, a sudden flash 
we can use to recharge our batteries. It's like imagining 
a cold glass of lemonade on a hot summer day. The 
thought of the ice, the sharp taste, the frosted glass, 
even the slice of lemon on the edge rouses us out of our 
sweaty lawn chair and into the kitchen for refreshment. 

In the same way, we can use our longing for the 
freshness of the mind at ease to bring us to the cushion, 
to bring us to the technique. We remember the cool 
peaceful place that underlies the oppressive heat of 
our bewilderment and suffering. We long to be there. 
We trust the refreshing and joyous aspects of medita- 
tion because we've heard about them, we've studied 
them, and we've experienced them. This is the support 
we need to move beyond disheartenment and pro- 


The next antidote is aspiration. Aspiration is trust with 
a sense of determination. We're determined to discover 
our own awakeness. We aspire to be like the Buddha, 
like someone who has mastered their whole being, 
someone who realizes the profound truth of things 
as they are. We've seen the volatility of external 



conditions. We've become dissatisfied with hope and 
fear as a way of life. Now we aspire to depend on our 
own stability, clarity, and strength. 

This determination is strong enough to overcome 
any resistance. When we're on the meditation seat and 
find ourselves wandering into laziness, our aspiration 
to soften the hardness of our mind is what inspires us to 
apply the technique and go back to the breath. A flash 
of wanting our mind to be at ease in its own strength 
can be enough to dissipate our laziness. 

No one told us to see ourselves as real, and we're 
certainly not alone in this basic misunderstanding. 
Laziness can be a form of letting blame sink us back 
into bewilderment and suffering: "This culture just 
keeps everyone asleep. No one else is meditating. Why 
should I be different? I think I'll just wait it out for a 
while." The Buddha says that if we look at it that way, 
we'll be waiting for a very long time. We may never get 
around to practicing. We have to accept responsibility 
for the state of our own mind; it doesn't work to blame 
others for our confusion or expect them to encourage 
or confirm us in our practice. We have to look to our- 
selves as the source of our own confusion — and our 
own enlightenment. 

Meditation is like making a friend who gives us 
good advice about how to live our life, how to handle 
our mind, how to see ourselves as intrinsically awake. 



It has already begun to untangle our bewilderment. 
We've seen the power of meditation to restore our san- 
ity, to restore our well-being. Aspiration is a deep 
desire to go further. 

It's as if we're climbing a mountain and we come to 
a place where we're tired and winded and we think we 
just can't go any farther. We stop to rest and look back 
to see how far we've come. We're amazed by how high 
we are and how far we've climbed. In Tibet, when we 
reach a place like this, we shout the warrior's cry — 
"Ki ki do do, Lha gyel Lol" Essentially this means, "The 
view is victorious!" The power of the big view gives 
us the courage to keep going. That's how aspiration 
overcomes laziness. 


If we think that by simply getting ourselves into the 
right position, our meditation will take place, we're 
wrong. Meditation is proactive. We have to be part 
of the process. That doesn't mean grinding it out. It 
means the mind must be engaged. 

The power of the engaged mind is that it moves 
toward the act of meditating. That's effort. It's the 
opposite of laziness, which is holding back. If we don't 
have mental effort, we're going to drift away. It takes 



effort to pull ourselves out of laziness and get to our 
seat. It takes effort to follow the technique correctly. 
Although shamatha is abiding in peace, it takes effort 
to stabilize our wild mind in that peace. This energy 
comes directly from our trust and aspiration. The 
symbiotic relationship between inspiration and effort 
makes us eager to engage in meditation. 

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche is one of the few gen- 
uine meditation teachers still alive today. He is always 
an inspiration to me, particularly as someone who 
exerts himself continually for others and who seems to 
find joy and energy in the effort. This is a true sign of 
an accomplished meditator. 

After he and many thousands of people escaped 
from Tibet into India, there were few places for monks 
and nuns to find food and shelter, let alone continue 
meditation practice. So Penor Rinpoche decided to re- 
establish his lost monastery in India. He had to clear a 
jungle and raise money in tiny increments, but he even- 
tually built the monastery with his own hands. Now, 
it continues to grow and thrive with thousands of 
people benefiting. Penor Rinpoche still works tire- 
lessly, with many administrative, financial, and educa- 
tional responsibilities. 

Despite his constant exertion, he is unwavering in 
his energy. He's cheerful — always joking and telling 
stories. He is completely present for a sick and dying 



person in one moment, and then in the next for the 
needs of a young monk in trouble. He doesn't take 
weekends or breaks, but continually exhibits this joy- 
ous effort day after day, filling people with confidence. 
He once told me that he doesn't worry very much, 
"Life is more difficult if you worry. It's better to deal 
with things as they come up." 

He is truly an example of someone who applies 
effort fluidly. Clearly this doesn't mean that he lives 
a quiet, isolated life. He is constantly busy and faced 
with obstacles, but he faces them with equanimity, joy, 
and a strong and stable mind. This is meditation in 
action. Practicing exertion like this helps us to turn the 
tide of laziness in our practice and in our daily life and 
trains us to live with confidence and strength. 



Forgetting the 

The second obstacle is forgetting the instructions. 
When we first begin to meditate, we're told how to 
hold our bodies on the cushion and how to hold our 
mind to the object of meditation. With mindfulness and 
awareness, we recognize and acknowledge thoughts 
and return our focus to the breath. That's our basic 
instruction. As soon as the mind leaves the breath and 
goes elsewhere, we have encountered the obstacle of 
forgetting the instruction. This pattern routinely 
blocks the road of meditation. 

When we forget the instructions, what we're hold- 
ing our mind to is discursiveness. We're on the cushion 
so wrapped up in thought that we can't remember what 
we're supposed to be doing. The instruction to stay 
present seems weak compared to the power of our 
distractions. Forgetting the instructions can happen 



suddenly or it can happen gradually, as if we're losing 
our grip on a heavy object. No matter how hard we try, 
we can't stay focused on the breath. The technique 
becomes blurry. Nothing inspirational comes to mind. 
We can only remember a couple of words: "sit," 
"breath," "thought," "mind." Apart from that, we can't 
remember anything. Not only have we forgotten the 
simple instructions, we might also have forgotten the 
view — the reason we're meditating. 

One reason we forget the instructions is that we're 
approaching meditation simplemindedly. We think it 
isn't that complicated — only a point or two to keep in 
mind. It's possible for simplicity to work, if we're able 
to follow the instructions. However, with a simple- 
minded view, our meditation becomes weak. When 
we're just waiting for thoughts to pop up like clay 
pigeons so we can shoot them down, we're forgetting 
our view and our intention. We're forgetting that we're 
here to cultivate the mind's natural stability, clarity, 
and strength. This isn't simplicity, it's lack of perspec- 
tive. All we have is technique; we've forgotten the rea- 
sons for following it. We've forgotten that the view of 
meditation is to be one-pointed and spacious. That's 
how we begin to purify our habitual patterns and dis- 
cover our true nature. If we're employing the tech- 
nique without the view, then all of a sudden, we can't 
figure out how to do it at all. Out of pride and lack of 



time, we may even start inventing our own little medi- 
tation technique. 

When we look at what actually happeru in medita- 
tion, we see that it isn't simple. In fact, the power of 
practice comes from the details and the depth: the pos- 
ture, the breath, the placement of our mind, the inten- 
tion, and the view. If we lose even one of these threads, 
the fabric of our practice comes unraveled and we for- 
get what we're doing. 

The antidote to forgetting the instructions is mind- 
fulness — in particular, remembering. We need to 
remind ourselves continuously of the details. If you've 
forgotten what you're doing with your mind, almost 
inevitably you've also forgotten what you're doing with 
your body. Start by remembering your posture. Is your 
spine still upright? Are you relaxed, or are you holding 
tension in your shoulders and arms? What are you 
doing with your gaze? Simply checking your posture 
and starting your meditation over — "Now I'm placing 
my mind on the breath" — can be the most direct way to 
invoke the instructions when you've forgotten in the 
middle of a session. 

The reason we practice every day is that it's easy to 
stray from the view; everything else in our life pulls us 
in different directions. We can regard forgetting the 
instructions as an integral part of our practice. Mind- 
fulness as an antidote means to learn it again. We need 



to keep remembering what meditation is, why we do it, 
and how. We need to study and contemplate. Without 
having a clear idea of what we're doing and refreshing 
it regularly, our meditation will never be successful. 
When we reread a meaningful book, for example, our 
take on it is often completely different from the first 
time. Obviously the words haven't changed; our 
understanding has deepened. 

No matter how easy meditation practice may 
sound, once we've tried it, we see that it's a challenging 
thing to do. There's an element of bravery involved 
every time we take our seat. Letting go of laziness and 
applying ourselves with mindfulness takes courage. It 
means that we are willing to leave our habitual patterns 
behind and move into new territory. Even though the 
voice of resistance is telling us, "Forget about it. Go 
do something else," we persevere, because we know 
there's no other way to make our mind an ally. At a cer- 
tain point in our meditation, we know exactly what 
we're doing. We've burned through enough fantasies, 
thoughts, and scenarios that we no longer believe 
them. We realize that all the ways we've kept ourselves 
asleep have led nowhere. Our wisdom is ripening. We 
quite gladly meditate, because we see that there is no 
better way to dissipate bewilderment and suffering. 



Not Too Tight, 
Not Too Loose 

My golf instructor, Norrie, says that most of us are 
"outgainers," always looking to outer conditions for 
success instead of creating the proper conditions 
within. He considers golf a game of cause and effect in 
which we're both the cause and the effect: We get mad, 
and no matter how much we want to cast blame else- 
where, it's we who are to blame. His point is that before 
taking a swing we have to center ourselves — recognize 
what we're feeling and come to inner balance — if we 
want to make a good shot. Otherwise we'll be at the 
mercy of inner volatility as well as the wind blowing 
across the course. If we're too wound up or too 
relaxed, our ability to make the shot is compromised. If 
we've stabilized ourselves first, we'll naturally be able 
to make our best swing. In order to do this, we need 
awareness. Awareness is the ability to know what is 



going on in our mind at present. It's important in medi- 
tation as well as in golf. 

The point of awareness — and the point of medita- 
tion, for that matter — is to know what's happening. We 
have to be awake. Otherwise we fall into lethargy, 
which is one step away from sleep. Without awareness, 
meditation will lead nowhere. In the first stages of 
peaceful abiding, awareness acts as a spy who watches 
us meditate, alerting mindfulness to bring us back to 
the breath when we stray. For a while it might be 
clumsy and intrusive, because as beginners we need to 
be watching constantly. But as we practice, awareness 
continues to develop. The mind becomes more stable, 
and our ability to know what's happening becomes 
stronger. Awareness becomes the sheriff who can sense 
that our mind is about to become distracted and rem- 
edy the situation before it even occurs. We don't see 
the sheriff running around everywhere; we just know 
he's there. Because we have more confidence, aware- 
ness no longer feels intrusive. 

Mindfulness and awareness also have roles as anti- 
dotes. For instance, when we face the obstacle of 
forgetting the instructions, the antidote is to trigger 
the remembering aspect of mindfulness. In the same 
way, when facing the obstacles of gdpa and chingwa, 
elation and laxity, we're calling on awareness as the 



As our practice deepens, we see intricate levels 
of discursiveness: discursiveness within fantasies, dis- 
cursiveness within emotions, discursiveness within 
thoughts, and discursiveness within discursiveness. 
Conversely, the way awareness comes in and looks at 
our meditation also becomes subtle. In the beginning it 
was very hard to see how that level of subtlety might 
develop. But as time goes on, because mindfulness 
takes less effort, we have greater awareness to oversee 
our practice. 

Encountering an obstacle is a signal that we're 
holding our mind to some form of distraction. Elation 
and laxity arise once we have some stability in our 
practice. They are mid-level roadblocks. It's possible to 
get a brief taste of elation and laxity in the earlier 
stages, but because our mind has to be well gathered in 
order to experience them fully, these obstacles are 
signs of progress. They indicate that our mindfulness is 
strong and our mind is stable. The horse is always stay- 
ing on the trail, and now we must work with its gait. 
Occasionally it's taking off after something to eat, and 
sometimes it's stubbornly spacing out. Because it's no 
longer rearing or bolting, however, we might hardly 
notice these other behaviors. It's important to work 
with them, though, because it's how we begin to find 
the middle ground of the balanced mind — not too tight 
and not too loose. 



In both elation and laxity, we experience the move- 
ment of the mind that keeps us from being fully pres- 
ent. In elation, we're holding our mind so tight that it 
begins to panic, just as a horse does when we're reining 
it in too hard. In laxity, we're holding our mind so loose 
that it drifts away. 

In elation, we're focused too tightly on the breath. 
With no warning, our mind protests by suddenly tak- 
ing off after some enticing little pleasure: a thought of 
ice cream, pizza, a cup of coffee, a pleasant past event, 
romance, sunshine — it could be anything. Suddenly 
we're no longer in charge. The horse is out of the gate. 
Why pleasure? After stability is established, it's more 
common for desire than aggression to disturb our med- 
itation. No matter what stage of practice we're in, it 
always feels better to want something than to feel 
anger, jealousy, or pride. We eventually arrive at a place 
where anger and jealousy and pride no longer arise so 
much, but pleasurable little desires still hook us. And 
we don't know we're hooked until our mind is gone. 

Laxity is the opposite of elation. In Tibetan the 
word for laxity is chingwa — the word that's used when 
someone's drowning. It means "to sink." The mind 
sinks into itself. Our relationship to the breath is loose, 
fuzzy, and distant. We lack freshness and clarity. We 
blank out. We've lost our taming power. "Too loose" 
maty feel as if we're not thinking, but what's really 



happened is that we've deadened our mind. We've sup- 
pressed the mind's movement. Because thinking is so 
neurotic, marauding, tedious, and obnoxious> we've 
decided to boycott it. That's what laxity feels like. We 
go to the extreme of trying to do nothing, even though 
that's not possible: the mind is always generating and 
being generated. 

What's happening in that state, when mind nullifies 
itself? One scenario is that the thoughts and emotions 
cancel each other out. Another is that we're trying 
so hard to be mindful, our mind sinks. When we sit 
down, we just fall asleep. This is connected with bore- 
dom. We're frustrated because we're used to constant 
entertainment, and now the mind can't even pro- 
duce remotely interesting thoughts. So it's bored — 
seemingly with meditation, but actually with itself. 

The antidote to both elation and laxity is aware- 
ness. We have to look at what's going on in our mind. 
Once awareness has told us that we're too loose or too 
tight, we have to learn how to adjust. If the obstacle is 
elation, we might try relaxing the technique, giving it a 
bit more room. We could give our outbreath more 
focus than our inbreath so that the mind has more free- 
dom. Or we could lighten our focus on the breath alto- 
gether. In that space, the agitation might settle down 
and we can go forward with a strong and clear medita- 
tion. If the obstacle is laxity, we need to tighten up our 



practice. We can bring more of our mind to the breath- 
ing overall. We could focus on the inbreath. We can 
stabilize our posture. We might try to perk up by 
removing a layer of clothing, opening a window, or 
raising our gaze. 

Another obstacle is that at times of great stability 
the mind does not apply the antidote. For example, we 
might be feeling relaxed, soothed, and content with our 
meditation, not recognizing that we're in a state of lax- 
ity. Everything feels good, we're in a good mood, and 
we think we've achieved perfection. Since we don't 
realize we're facing an obstacle, it's hard to apply an 
antidote. Yet the appropriate antidote in such a situa- 
tion is to apply the antidote. 

Equally subtle is the obstacle of cverapplying the 
antidote. Once when I was camping in a beautiful 
mountain meadow, some of my neighbors were playing 
a radio. Here we were in a quiet and peaceful place, 
and they thought they could make it better by adding 
one more thing. This is overapplying the antidote. It's 
sometimes best just to let our practice be. If we fiddle 
with it too much, we'll only be stirring up water that 
has settled. The antidote for overapplying the antidote 
is known as resting in equanimity. In this case it's best 
to rest as you are. 

For thousands of years, teachers have provided us 
with many tools, but it's up to us to learn how to use 


them. It takes experience and maturity to be intimate 
with the intricacies of our mind. We have to be able to 
see exactly what is going on: "Ah, I'm not just dis- 
tracted, I'm stuck in elation." Then we can apply some 
practical advice. Working with obstacles like laxity and 
elation is a process of trial and error. Even as our prac- 
tice is becoming subtler, we're still discovering the 
ways to hold our mind to the breath. 

In fact, as we practice shamatha, most of the time 
we'll be learning how to recognize laxity and elation 
and then overcome them by applying the appropriate 
antidote. When a musician asked the Buddha how he 
should meditate, the Buddha asked him, "How do 
you tune the strings of your guitar?" The musician 
answered, "Not too tight, not too loose, so it makes the 
right sound." The Buddha said, "Similarly, you should 
hold your mind in meditation." Just as in playing a 
musical instrument, holding the mind "not too tight, 
not too loose" takes practice. 

When our awareness is very strong, we can deal 
with obstacles as they arise while continuing to hold 
our mind to the breath. As soon as we detect an ob- 
stacle, we first relax our focus on the technique. We're 
still applying it, but it's not as clear, crisp, or tight. At 
the same time, we're able to deal with whatever trouble 
is arising. It's like answering the phone while we're 



In this way the meditation continues without being 
interrupted. It's not as if we stop, deal with the obstacle, 
and come back. This is how awareness begins to extend 
the process of mindfulness. The combination of mind- 
fulness and awareness is like walking across the room 
holding a cup full of water. Mindfulness maintains the 
proper angle and degree of pressure; awareness makes 
sure that it doesn't spill. 

Mindfulness is a helpful tool; in the chaos of our 
daily life, we need to be mindful of many things. It's 
awareness, however, that becomes the bridge between 
the cushion and our everyday life. Who's paying atten- 
tion to how we're using our body, speech, and mind as 
we move through the day? Awareness. With awareness 
we can understand our conduct in any situation. It's 
how we know we're being a jerk and need to be more 
kind. It's how we know we're scared or fearful — or 
iearledd. It is this knowing quality of awareness that 
will ultimately lead to the development of our enlight- 
ened mind. 



Nine Stages of 
Training the Mind 

As the lineage of meditators sat on their cushions and 
worked with their minds, they saw the same unfold- 
ing process: nine ways that the mind can be true to 
its inherent stability, clarity, and strength. In their 
descriptions of nine stages of training the mind, they 
left us signposts of that process. These guidelines are 
helpful because the mind is so vast that if we're left to 
our own devices, we'll usually just wander in thought. 
These nine stages are a map of the meditative process. 

The first four stages — placement, continual place- 
ment, repeated placement, and close placement — have 
to do with developing stability. Stages five and six — 
taming and pacifying — have to do with developing 
clarity. And the last three stages — thoroughly pacify- 
ing, one-pointed, and equanimity — have to do with 
building strength. 



1. Placement 

Placing our mind on the breath is the first thing we do 
in meditation. In the moment of placing our mind, 
we're mounting the horse: we put our foot in the stir- 
rup and pull ourselves up to the saddle. It's a matter of 
taking our seat properly. 

This moment of placement starts when we extract 
our mind from its engagement with events, problems, 
thoughts, and emotions. We take that wild and busy 
mind and place it on the breath. Even though we're 
placing our consciousness, which isn't physical, place- 
ment feels very physical. It's as deliberate as placing a 
rock on top of a leaf. 

In order for placement to be successful, we have to 
formally acknowledge that we're letting go of concepts, 
thoughts, and emotions: "Now I'm placing my mind 
upon the breath." What happens in that moment? Our 
attachments are uprooted. If we can even attempt such 
a thing, our discursiveness is greatly reduced. At the 
same time, by placing it on the breath, we're gathering 
that mind that's spread thin all over. 

For beginning meditators the first stage is where 
we learn how to balance the focus on breathing, recog- 
nition of thoughts, and holding the posture. It's a grace 
period during which we develop good meditation 
habits. As we continue in our practice, placement is 



always the first step. It's that moment at the beginning 
of each session when we recognize and acknowledge 
that we've begun meditating. Because it establishes our 
attitude toward the rest of the session, it's the most 
important stage. The moment of placement gives our 
meditation a crisp, clean start. If we begin in a vague or 
ambiguous way, then our meditation will only continue 
to be vague and ambiguous. Like placing a domino, 
how carefully we place our mind in the first stage will 
directly affect the development of the next. 

After that first moment, each time you choose to 
recognize and acknowledge a thought and return your 
consciousness to the breath, you're learning placement. 
It's such a small act, so innocuous, but it's one of the 
most courageous things you can do. When you recog- 
nize and release that thought, you can take pride in 
yourself. You've overcome laziness. You've remem- 
bered the instructions. You can feel happy coming 
back to the breath. Don't worry that you're going to 
have to do it again — you're going to do it thousands of 
times. That's why this is called practice. 

Each time you remember to place your mind on the 
breath, you're moving forward. Just by letting a 
thought go, you're extracting yourself from concepts, 
negative emotions, and bewilderment. You're letting go 
of the need to be endlessly entertained and consumed. 
You have to do it again and again and again. Change 



happens one breath at a time, one thought at a time. 
Each time you return to the breath, you're taking one 
step away from addiction to discursiveness and fear 
and one step forward on the path of enlightenment, 
beginning with developing compassion for yourself. 

I love golf. I play it whenever I can. No matter what 
kind of game I'm having, I can hit only one ball at a time. 
Each ball is the only ball; my mind has to be fresh every 
time. If I think of the balls I've hit or the balls I will hit, 
I'm not really hitting th 'u ball. I'm only ingraining bad 
habits. It's the same with placement. If you're not crisp 
and fresh in recognizing and releasing thoughts, you're 
not really meditating; you're ingraining sloppiness. Those 
thoughts will gain power, and eventually you won't be 
meditating at all. You'll just be thinking. 

Recognizing, acknowledging, and releasing a 
thought is like reaching the top of a mountain. It's wor- 
thy of the warrior's cry, "Kikido do!" What we celebrate 
is leaving behind the self-indulgent fantasies that will 
rob us of our life unless we work with them properly. 
Inspiration, view, effort, trust, mindfulness, and aware- 
ness support us in this. 

The more we're able to gather our attention and 
focus, the stronger our mind becomes, the stronger 
the experience becomes, and the stronger the result 
becomes. We know we're able to place our minds prop- 
erly when we can hold our focus on the breathing for 



roughly twenty-one cycles without our mind becoming 
enormously distracted. 

2. Continual Placement 

Placing our mind on the breath is now fairly easy 
We've learned to mount the horse, and now we feel 
comfortable being in the saddle. The horse is walking 
along the trail. We're experiencing how it feels to be on 
the breath, to be continually in placement. When dis- 
cursiveness and distraction take us off the trail, by and 
large we're able to implement placement to get back 
on. What allows us to do this is further development 
of mindfulness and awareness, lack of laziness, and 
remembering the instructions. 

Another reason we're able to successfully place our 
mind on the breath is that we have confidence in the 
reasons why we're meditating. We do it with enthusiasm 
because we know it will bring us peace. We see the futil- 
ity of outside concerns, fantasies, thoughts, and emo- 
tions. We're willing to give them up at least for the period 
of our meditation because we see the benefits of doing 
so. Placement has become a reasonable thing to do. 

When resting our mind on the breathing and relat- 
ing to our thoughts with ease becomes the norm, we're 
coming to the end of this stage. A benchmark is that 



we're able to rest our minds for roughly 108 cycles of 
the breath without being caught in distraction. Through 
108 breaths — in and out — we can be mindful of the 
breathing. Although we may experience some dis- 
cursiveness, the thoughts aren't bothersome or large 
enough that we lose mindfulness and forget the breath- 
ing altogether. 

At this stage our mindfulness and stability last only 
so long; then our mind drifts off. But when the main- 
stay of our practice is that we can stay on the breathing 
for 108 breaths, giving ourselves a little wiggle room in 
that we will be neither completely still nor completely 
distracted, then we've graduated from the second to 
the third stage, which is known as repeated placement. 

3. Repeated Placement 

We might feel like we have been doing "repeated place- 
ment" since the beginning. But the landscape of medi- 
tation is vast, and the stages progressively subtle, 
because they describe our experience, which becomes 
more and more refined. The Tibetan word for this stage 
is len, which means to retrieve, to gather, to bring back. 
We've learned how to place our mind and how to con- 
tinue to place our mind, but occasionally a thought still 
breaks out like a wild horse galloping across the plains. 



In the first two stages this happened incessantly. By the 
third stage it happens only occasionally. 

During the second stage, we learned to enjoy the 
ride. We're delighted that we can stay in the saddle and 
enjoy the scenery. In the third stage we become more 
confident. But the horse still has spontaneous moments 
of excitement and wildness. Now and then it rears or 
bucks or leaves the trail. We have to bring it back. We 
practice occasionally retrieving it throughout the third 
stage, and by the end we do it less and less. Our mind- 
fulness is maturing into stability. 

Now we're able to focus on our breathing, on being 
present. When the mind departs, it's usually to chase 
fantasies of little pleasures, from food to better weather 
to romantic adventures. This is elation: we're holding 
our mind too tightly. We're focused on the breath so 
hard that the mind suddenly departs. As this stage 
progresses, the speed and efficiency with which we 
retrieve our mind increases. By comparison, the way 
we extracted ourselves from thoughts in earlier stages 
looks messy. Sometimes it was like quicksand — the 
harder we tried to get out, the more we were embroiled. 
But now, because mindfulness is so strong, we're able 
to remove ourselves with precision. By the end of this 
stage we've achieved one of the milestones of shamatha: 
stability. Mindfulness is so potent that we're able to 
remain on the breath without ever being fully dis- 



tracted. Awareness is also becoming more astute. We're 
beginning to catch thoughts before they occur. 

Our meditation isn't as clear and vibrant as it could 
be, but it feels good and peaceful because we've stabi- 
lized our minds. Throughout the course of a session, 
our mind always remains in the theater of iheditation. 
This is an admirable accomplishment. In Tibet it is 
likened to a vulture soaring high in the sky over a dead 
animal. This bird now always keeps its eye on the food. 
It may drift a little to the left or right, but it never loses 
sight of the food. Similarly our minds may drift here 
and there, but never away from the breath. 

Before the end of the third stage, sometimes we were 
present for our practice and sometimes we weren't Now 
we're there for all of it This is stability. It didn't happen 
because we hit ourselves over the head with an overly 
simplified meditation technique. We achieved it gently 
and precisely through repetition, consistency, view, atti- 
tude, intention, proper posture, and good surroundings. 

4. Clo<fe Placement 

The entry to the fourth stage, which is known as close 
placement, is marked by nondistraction. We always 
remain close to the breath. That's when we know we've 
crossed the border. This is stability. We know that even 



though the horse will wander here and there, it won't 
be leaving the trail. 

Our meditation now takes on a different twist. Pre- 
viously our main concern was not to be distracted from 
the breath. We were worried that our mind was going 
to be sucked back into everyday problems. We were 
always wondering if we'd be strong enough to return to 
the breath. Now we're more relaxed. We're no longer 
wondering if we can stay on the breath because we 
know we can. We're no longer concerned about out- 
side influences pulling us away from meditation 
because we know they won't. Our confidence is height- 
ened. Now we're concerned about the quality of our 
meditation — the texture, the experience. Before we 
were worried that we couldn't get a cup of coffee; now 
we want a mocha cappuccino. How can we make our 
minds stronger, more vibrant? This is our new priority. 

By and large, we've overcome the obstacles of lazi- 
ness and forgetting the instructions. These obstacles 
were bad because they kept us from meditating. By the 
end of the third stage and into the fourth stage we're 
dealing with the obstacles of elation and laxity. Either 
extreme has distracting results. However, since by now 
we're always remaining at the scene of our practice, 
these are considered good problems to have. 

In Tibet we're warned that at the fourth stage we 
might be fool enough to think we've achieved enlight- 



enment or high realization — the mind feels so strong 
and stable and good. Because the struggle with our 
mind has been reduced greatly, there's a quality of joy 
and ease. But if we enjoy the stability of the mind too 
much, it will become too relaxed. We might not reach 
the other stages. Hence the obstacle of laxity. Our 
mind is stable but not clear. The bird can't land on the 
meat; it can only fly around it. We need awareness to 
home in, sharpen sensibility, pull our mind in tighter. 

5. Taming 

Even though the accomplishments at the third and 
fourth stages are heroic, there's further to go. In the 
fifth stage we're able to tighten up our meditation by 
bringing in more clarity. This stage is known as taming 
because we begin to experience the true fruits of a 
tamed mind, something that we began to cultivate long 
ago in the first stage. Taming here is the experience of 
Icju rungwa, being able to make our mind workable. In 
the fourth stage, we might still feel awed by the fact 
that we've tamed the horse. But now a strong, stable, 
and clear mind feels natural. Our mind is not perfectly 
still. We still have discursive thoughts. But we're feel- 
ing true synergy with the horse. We're feeling har- 
mony. We're no longer struggling. 



The harmony and synergy create joy A traditional 
metaphor for what we experience at this stage is the 
delight of a bee drawing nectar from a flower. Medita- 
tion tastes good, joyous. If you've ever had a hard time 
and then suddenly felt the pressure lift, you might have 
briefly known such bliss and liberation. 

6. Pacifying 

The sixth stage is known as pacifying. A great battle 
has taken place and there is victory. We're seated on 
the horse surveying the field. We know we've won. We 
feel tranquil and vibrant like mountain greenery after a 
thunderstorm. Everything has been watered and ener- 
gized. There is tremendous clarity. 

We're still working with a mind that is sometimes 
tight and sometimes loose. In our practice we still have 
to make many little adjustments. But in making these 
adjustments we're no longer frantic, as we might have 
been in the first few stages. Then it was questionable 
that we would ever make our mind an ally, and now the 
peace we feel tells us that we have. Our meditation is 
joyous and clear. We begin to experience not only 
mind's natural harmony, but also its inherent strength. 

At this stage we also feel excitement. We begin to 
see the possibilities of what we can accomplish with 



our tamed mind. Before, this relationship was a bur- 
den, but now it's full of possibilities. The wild horse has 
been tamed. 

7. Thoroughly Pacifying 

The battle may be over, but there are still a few little 
enemy soldiers running around in the form of subtle 
thoughts, mostly about pleasure. We may be slightly 
attached to how good meditation feels. There are little 
dualistic rumblings. Although we know that they're 
not going to disrupt our meditation, we can't just sit 
back and ignore them. In thoroughly pacifying, we 
don't dispel the thoughts as we did in stage four. Now 
we seduce them, like snow falling into fire. Our medita- 
tion is becoming so strong that when thoughts and 
emotions encounter its heat they naturally dissolve. 

Remember the waterfall of thoughts we felt when 
we first sat down on the cushion to tame our minds? 
It's become a lake with only a few little ripples. 

8. One-Pointed 

By the eighth stage, known as one-pointed, the rem- 
nants of discursiveness have evaporated. We're sitting 



there completely awake, clear, and knowing. This is 
possible because we're no longer distracted. Our medi- 
tation has developed all the attributes of perfection, 
which is what we will accomplish at the ninth stage. 
The only difference is that at the beginning of medita- 
tion we still have to make a slight effort to point our 
mind in the direction of the breath. 

9. Equanimity 

Our meditation has come to perfection. When we sit 
down we engage with the breath in a completely fluid 
and spontaneous manner. Our mind is strong, stable, 
clear, and joyous. We feel a complete sense of victory. 
We could meditate forever. Even in the back of our 
mind, there are no traces of thoughts. We're in union 
with the present moment. Our mind is at once peace- 
ful and powerful, like a mountain. There's a sense of 

This is perfection. Like a finely trained racehorse, 
our mind remains motionless but alive with energy. 
The mind has actually grown — in strength as well as 
size. We feel magnanimous, expansive. This is the 
fruition of peaceful abiding. Now we have a mind that 
is able to focus in any endeavor. We feel centered and 







Turning the Mind 

The power of peaceful abiding is that we begin to see 
how our mind works. We begin to see how our life 
works, too. That changes us. When we first began to 
practice, we might have felt as though thoughts and 
emotions were solid. Our minds were weak. Thoughts 
and emotions seemed overwhelming. Now we see that 
they're like mist rising from water. We see that thoughts 
are powerful because we believe in them, so much so 
that we base our entire life on them. How we dress, 
what we eat, where we live, and everything else about 
our life is a product of our thinking. What were we 
thinking when we bought this? What were we thinking 
when we did that? We begin to see how our belief 
in the solidity of thoughts has created this concept 
called "me." We see that at the basis of our being is 



something deeper and more open than fantasies, emo- 
tions, and discursiveness. 

Now thoughts don't have the power over us that 
they did before. We're not distracted. Our mindfulness 
and awareness are keen. Through consistent practice, 
we've grown familiar with the feeling of a focused 
mind. We've developed the strength to stay with it. 
This state of clarity connects us with reality. Whether 
we're writing a master's thesis or cooking a meal, we're 
clear about who we are and what we're doing. We 
know our basic goodness. The mind's our ally, and we 
feel wholesome and complete. It's as if we've slept well 
and eaten well, and we're in good surroundings. We 
have a healthy sense of self. 

With a healthy sense of self we feel at ease. Every- 
thing we need is already here. We're centered within a 
state of contentment. We're not too hard on ourselves; 
at the same time, we're wise to our own little tricks. We 
know how we get slippery. We know when we're try- 
ing to get away with something. We're comfortable 
looking at ourselves honestly. Our mind is open and 
supple. We're becoming inquisitive because a whole 
range of reality we hadn't noticed before is coming into 
focus. With this openness, flexibility, and curiosity, we 
begin to see certain truths about the way things are. 

The Buddha taught that to wake up from the dream 
of bewilderment and suffering, we first need to sit still 



and take a deep breath. Peaceful abiding is that deep 
breath, a way to strip away the chaos of bewilderment 
and find some basic sanity. But peaceful abiding is only 
the beginning of the spiritual journey. Simply with- 
drawing into the stability of our own minds could turn 
meditation practice into just another way to shop for 
pleasure. Instead, with this healthy sense of self we can 
look more deeply into the meaning of our being. We 
can take meditation further by using insight, vipadhyana 
in Sanskrit, to reflect accurately on our own experi- 
ence and on the nature of existence. We can point our 
mind in a new direction — away from illusions and 
toward reality. We do this through the practice of con- 

In a nutshell, the emotions we experience all come 
down to passion, aggression, and bewilderment. With 
peaceful abiding we've been working mostly with see- 
ing how we're either grasping what we want — passion — 
or pushing away what we don't want — aggression. This 
is like clearing the field of vines and thorn bushes. Now 
we have a stable mind that sees clearly the distractions 
of these two powerful forces and has the strength not 
to be swayed by them. What we're left with is the 
power of ignorance, and ignorance is the source of suf- 
fering. Ignorance is like a deeply rooted weed with 
runners. If we aren't aware of the pitfalls of delusion, 
how can we deal with them? We can dismantle our 



illusions by contemplating the reality of human life and 
our potential to awaken the mind of enlightenment. 
This is what we do in contemplative meditation. 

I've said that our bewildered mind is like a wild 
horse. I have a very high regard for horses. When I was 
in high school, I spent some time working on a ranch in 
West Texas. A stallion in the distance on the high 
plains is a powerful sight to behold. We don't tame 
such a strong majestic creature by beating the spirit out 
it. Instead, we work with its raw power and turn that 
energy in a certain direction. Where do we want to 
take that horse? Where do we want to go riding? We 
want to make a real journey. We want to ride in the 
meadows of compassion, the gardens of awakened 
heart, the fields of wisdom. This is the essence of the 
practice of contemplation: we learn to direct the energy 
of our mind toward enlightenment. 

When we practice shamatha, we gather the energy 
of the mind by drawing it in. We disempower bewilder- 
ment by recognizing and releasing thoughts and emo- 
tions. Initially thoughts are a problem because we're so 
distracted by them. They're a problem when they build 
into strong emotions, because they destabilize us. In 
contemplative meditation, we use them. Our object of 
meditation is no longer the breath. Instead, we hold 
our mind to a thought or a sentence and keep it there, 



and use insight to understand its meaning. This brings 
our concepts more in tune with reality. 

The Buddha was considered to be a renegade 
because he asked people to look in this way at the truth 
of what was going on. He left us clues about the nature 
of reality and how to encourage the mind of enlight- 
enment — "precious human birth," "impermanence," 
"death," "karma," "samsara," and "awakened heart or 
mind." What do these words really mean? How can we 
let them penetrate our being and allow us to trans- 
form? Contemplating the meaning of a particular 
thought moves us from concept toward a direct experi- 
ence of reality, which is wisdom. 

We can say "blue, " but until we see the color blue, 
we don't really know what the meaning is. We can say 
that something is hot, but until we touch it, we don't 
know what "hot" means. We can talk about bringing 
our mind to compassion by saying "May all sentient 
beings be free from suffering and the root of suffering," 
but until we feel the pain of others, "pain" is only a 
word. We have to crack its shell to let its meaning 
infuse us, seep into our lives. 

In contemplative meditation we are getting to the 
inner essence of reality. After a certain point, the words 
fall away, but the meaning stays. We are no longer 
operating from the basis of concept. The subject-object 


separation is gone. The reality of birth, death, imper- 
manence, and free and well-favored human birth has 
penetrated us. Just like the Buddha after he left the 
palace, we've incorporated their reality. We've picked 
the fruit off the tree and we can finally drink the juice. 
That's the point of contemplation — hearing, listening, 
understanding. It puts us in tune with the nature of 

Seeing through ignorance and realizing the mean- 


ing of our lives is very precise work — work for a mind 
that is stable, clear, and strong. It takes patience to do 
this practice. As my father used to say, it's like combing 
our hair over and over again. We're becoming familiar 
with thoughts that will shift the stream of our being, 
the direction of our lives — if we let their meaning pene- 
trate us. In becoming familiar with love and compassion, 
karma and samsara, the preciousness of being human, 
the inevitability of death, we train in diving deep into 
the truth and awakening our dormant wisdom. 

Contemplative Meditation Instructions 

Since having a stable mind is the ground of contempla- 
tion, begin your session with a few minutes of shamatha. 
Then shift your focus from the breath to a certain 
thought, inspiration, or intent. For example, you can 



say to yourself, "Now I am placing my mind on the pre- 
ciousness of human birth." Or "Now I am placing my 
mind on the reality of impermanence." Then gather the 
mind and place it on those words. Contemplation is 
peaceful abiding with a different object, so everything 
you've learned about shamatha applies to this practice. 
When you recognize that you're thinking about some- 
thing besides the object of meditation, acknowledge 
that you're distracted and return to the thought you're 

In this practice, the words are the gateway to the 
meaning. As you continue to place your mind on them, 
eventually the words fall away and their meaning or 
the experience to which they refer will arise. For ex- 
ample, you may start to feel your heart opening as you 
wish that your sister or your best friend be happy. In 
contemplating impermanence or death, you might feel 
a sense of groundlessness. By resting your mind in that 
meaning, that feeling, you're building familiarity with a 
particular facet of reality. 

At times you may find that you place your mind on 
the words and you don't really feel a thing. Just con- 
tinue resting your mind on the words. As your own 
relationship with those words deepens, eventually an 
experience of their meaning will arise. It's sometimes 
necessary to really think about what you're doing. 
Return to the words as the object of meditation, and at 



the same time, bring in thoughts, images, and memo- 
ries to enrich your contemplation. Sometimes I'll 
remember the beggars I've seen in India, for example, 
to help evoke a feeling of compassion. If you're practic- 
ing raising the mind of love, you can imagine people 
you know being really happy. This kind of focused and 
controlled thinking can crack the shell of the words 
and let the meaning come through. 

At the end of your session, let the meaning of your 
meditation become your view. For example, if you've 
been contemplating the preciousness of human birth, 
throughout the day you can let your mind rest in a 
sense of appreciation for life. You can be thoroughly 
soaked in the message of your contemplation. 

The topics in the following chapters are helpful to 
contemplate at some point in your practice. They will 
help you ground yourself in the realities of your life, 
appreciate what you have, and utilize your insight to go 
beyond the boundaries of "me." You can also use these 
contemplations as antidotes if you're feeling a lack of 
courage or if you're feeling disheartened. They will 
give you inspiration. For example, when you feel that 
things are falling apart, you can contemplate the pre- 
ciousness of human life to remind yourself of what you 
have. When you feel that you're making emotions and 
thoughts solid, you can contemplate impermanence to 
remind yourself that everything is in flux. When you're 



in the throes of an intense situation, you can contem- 
plate the nature of samsara instead of feeling that 
you're completely to blame. When you're in the grips 
of anger or desire, it can be helpful to contemplate and 
dismantle the emotion according to the instruction 
given in Chapter 6. 

You can contemplate these topics at any time. First 
do a little sitting, and then turn your mind to the con- 
templation of your choice for ten minutes or so. At the 
end of the contemplation, sit for a few more minutes. 
Depending on your schedule and how the practice 
feels, do one topic a day, one a week, or even one a 
month. In an all- day session of practice, you could do 
one topic in the morning and another in the afternoon. 

For a summary of instructions for contemplative 
meditation, see Appendix C. 



The J oy of 
Being Human 

In turning the mind into an ally, we are actively 
encouraging virtue— gewa in Tibetan. We can think of 
virtue as the qualities of an enlightened being, our 
enlightened genetic makeup. We are being courageous 
like a warrior in strengthening these positive aspects of 
ourselves. They include a stable mind, a healthy sense 
of self grounded in the experience of basic goodness, a 
clear view of the facts of life, an unconditionally loving 
heart, and the wisdom to know the right thing to do at 
all times. The mind of enlightenment sees things as 
they are. An enlightened being sees a noncompounded 
truth that is empty, joyous, and luminous — the basic 
nature of all. What the Buddha discovered on his jour- 
ney is that we're all ultimately capable of seeing this 
truth and consciously rooting our activities in it. Our 
potential is to become totally happy. 



Perhaps we think of enlightenment as an instant 
transformation. One minute the Buddha was sitting 
under the tree, a regular Joe from India, and the next 
minute he woke up as Shakyamuni Buddha, the 
Totally Blessed One. However, it didn't happen like 
that. Enlightenment was the tail end of a long process. 
The Buddha was diligent in training and developing 
his mind. It took exertion, patience, and discipline to 
transform himself this way. 

Like spring bulbs dormant underneath the frozen 
earth, the qualities of the enlightened mind need time 
and the proper conditions to grow. Although surpris- 
ing and revealing moments of insight may deepen our 
understanding, the mind of enlightenment doesn't open 
in an instant. These moments of insight are like the 
days getting warmer and longer at the end of winter. 
One warm sunny day isn't going to make the flowers 
bloom, but as more of them occur, we're going to see 
signs of stems and leaves and eventually buds. Just so, 
as our moments of insight accumulate, they begin to 
influence our activity; we're able to open our hearts. 
We begin to use what we've understood in contempla- 
tion to inspire our conduct in the world. The kind of 
insights we're going to have and our ability to know 
their meaning will depend on the strength of mind that 
we've already established. 

Most of us contemplate what's missing in our lives, 



as opposed to what we have. Contemplating what we 
have opens up our mind to be bigger, less insular. In 
contemplating the joy of being human, we focus on the 
words, "Joyful human birth, difficult to find, free and 
well favored." 

When I was young, I used to entertain myself this 
way before falling asleep. In my mind's eye I would see 
myself lying in bed. I would zoom back like a camera to 
include ihy house in my neighborhood in Boulder, in 
Colorado, in the United States of America, on the con- 
tinent of North America. Then I would look at the 
planet like a globe, including India, where I was born; 
Tibet, where my father and mother were born; and 
Scotland, where I learned to speak English. Then I 
would picture Earth as a beautiful blue sphere floating 
in blackness. I would make the picture bigger, includ- 
ing other planets in our solar system with the sun in the 
center. The most amazing thing was to see earth disap- 
pearing into the darkness as a speck. Then I would 
imagine the outer planets of the solar system. The sun 
would disappear as I imagined all the stars in our 
galaxy, which seemed endless. I would dissolve our 
galaxy into one star, one light, and make that light very 
tiny, surrounded by other lights in the darkness, which 
weren't stars, but galaxies. Then I would think about 
how small I was, and how strange and wonderful it is 
to have been born. 



Everybody we know was born. Everyone we see 
was once a baby. First they weren't here, and then they 
were. We don't often contemplate birth — we're too 
busy worrying about money, food, the way we look, the 
way other people look, what other people are thinking 
about the way we look. But birth is a profound pas- 
sage. Seeing a chick pecking its way out of an egg is 
moving and powerful. Even though in being born we 
suffer, birth can happen in such love, such openness. 
And like death, birth shows us the fragility of life. 

Of all the hundreds of millions of stars and planets 
just within our own little Milky Way, this seems to be 
the only one that can support life. The scientific proof 
we have of life elsewhere is in amino acids and rocks — 
not even in animals, much less human beings. If we 
think about how many other kinds of beings are born 
here on Earth, it's amazing that we're born human. 
A traditional Buddhist teaching on the difficulty of 
obtaining human birth uses the image of a blind tor- 
toise swimming in an ocean that's as big as the earth, 
with an ox's yoke tossing on the surface. Once every 
five hundred years the turtle swims up to the surface. 
The chances of obtaining a human birth are said to be 
as small as the chances of that turtle emerging with its 
head in the yoke. 

We can think about how free we are in the human 
realm. The Buddha saw it as the place to be, because in 



this realm — if we're lucky — we can hear and practice 
spiritual teachings. We can discover our natural state 
and help others discover theirs. Even though beings in 
other realms still have the possibility of awakened 
mind, by and large, it's more difficult to cultivate. 
According to the Buddhist teachings, in some of these 
realms, beings don't even have bodies. In others, they 
think they have a body but they don't. There are realms 
in which beings suffer too much to ever go beyond it. 
There are realms where they're constantly tortured by 
heat or cold or sharpness or wetness or dryness or 
brightness or darkness. There are realms where beings 
are totally consumed by jealousy or anger. There are 
realms where beings are always hungry. In other 
realms beings don't experience enough suffering to 
investigate reality; they're having too much fun. These 
are godlike realms where beings live for a long time — 
but not forever. There's also the realm of animals, 
where ignorance rules. Here there's less possibility of 
realizing awakened mind because all energy goes into 
trying to stay alive. 

The habits of animals are pretty fascinating. When 
I watch a nature show on television, I wonder, "Do ani- 
mals ever think about anything? If one beaver has a 
bigger tree to munch on, do the others get upset?" In 
contemplating the human realm, we can think about 
how animals suffer — how they're used as beasts of bur- 



den, how we eat them, how they eat each other. It 
seems that most of their lives are territorial and chaotic. 
There's incredible aggression, struggle, and fear in the 
animal realm. If we go camping in a place where there 
are dangerous animals, we know how it feels to have to 
worry about being eaten. 

"Well favored" means that we've been born in a 
time and place where we have the luxury of hearing, 
contemplating, and putting into action teachings that 
awaken us to our enlightened mind. We're relatively 
healthy, we have a roof over our head and food in our 
mouths. We have family and friends. We've encoun- 
tered someone who can teach us how to train our mind 
and open our heart. Being threatened by nuclear war, 
terrorism, and global warming is a reminder that we 
can't take such conditions for granted. We're just these 
tiny vulnerable beings riding on a blue dot in space. Yet 
sometimes we act as if we're the center of the universe. 
The enlightened alternative is to appreciate how 
incredibly rare and precious human life is. The enlight- 
ened alternative is to appreciate everything. By appreci- 
ating whatever we encounter, we can use it to further 
our journey of warriorship. We are good as we are, and 
it is good as it is. Once we have this understanding, 
we'll see that we are living in a sacred world. 

As a result, we can be joyful. We may not be happy 
all day every day, but we won't feel so sorry for 



ourselves. Through appreciating every aspect of 
human life, we can benefit others. When we're in good 
health, we can appreciate that. When we're ill, we can 
use the illness to awaken to the preciousness of our 
lives. We can appreciate the health that we have and 
feel compassion for others who are more ill. Even when 
we're very ill, we can be curious and courageous, and 
use it as an opportunity to inspire others. 

When we're in any kind of pain, we can use it to 
open our hearts to the reality that people are always 
suffering. Pain is something everyone experiences. We 
can use it to ground us in the fundamental truth of our 
being. Pain gives us firsthand experience by which to 
be kind and generous to others. It gives us direct access 
through our empathy to helping others. We can use 
pain to activate compassion. We'd like others not to 
experience pain, and we can extend ourselves to them. 
We can contemplate the words, "May all beings be free 
of pain." Our direct experience of pain only makes our 
wish more potent. It may even decrease our pain, 
because it increases our joy. This becomes a wonderful 
meditation, to sit there and contemplate the relief of 
pain and suffering of everyone, of the whole world — 
not only because it changes our attitude toward our 
own pain, but also because it's opening our mind of 
enlightenment. This kind of prayer is always healing. 



If we're materially wealthy, we can appreciate the 
power it bestows on us to help others. If we're not 
wealthy we can appreciate the simplicity and freedom 
of that. We can always contemplate and appreciate 
what we do have. In peaceful abiding we have the 
means by which to tame our wild-horse mind. In con- 
templation we have a way to rouse the courage to 
direct our mind toward enlightenment. When we 
generate selfless love and compassion, we manifest 
tremendous power to help others find freedom from 
the bewildering and claustrophobic darkness of sam- 
sara. We are indeed well favored. 

These are just a few thoughts we might contem- 
plate to fully experience the meaning of our precious 
human birth. As we practice turning our mind toward 
an appreciation of our basic situation, we become less 
enmeshed in self -involvement. It becomes easier to 
tune in to the simple and ordinary pleasures of our 
existence. Our problems become smaller. Because we 
appreciate what we have, being alive seems fresh and 



The Unchanging 
Truth of Change 

The face of impermanence is constantly showing itself. 
Why do we struggle to hide it? Why do we feed the 
circle of suffering by perpetuating the myth of perma- 
nence? Experiences, friends, relationships, possessions, 
knowledge — we work so hard to convince ourselves 
that they will last. When a cup breaks or we forget 
something or somebody dies or the seasons change, 
we're surprised. We can't quite believe it's over. 

Most summers I conduct a program at our retreat 
center in the Rocky Mountains. We create a world of 
tents in a huge meadow — dining tent, meditation tent, 
sleeping tents. It's refreshing to live like this, since most 
of us live in buildings all year round. At the beginning 
of the summer we put the tents up, and at the end we 
take them down. After the tents come down and we 
look into the meadow, we're always surprised. We feel 



happy and sad. We're happy in reflecting back on what 
occurred during the summer; we're sad that all the 
tents are gone. It seemed so real. No matter how many 
times we've done it, at the end of each summer we have 
the same feeling. 

This bittersweet taste marks our lives. The movie 
ends, our relationship's over, children grow up. Imper- 
manence is always pounding at the door. Of course, 
acknowledging impermanence doesn't mean we get 
permanence. It means we're more in tune with reality; 
we can relax. As we relinquish our attachment to per- 
manence, pain begins to diminish because we're no 
longer fooled. Accepting impermanence means that we 
spend less energy resisting reality. Our suffering has a 
more direct quality. We're no longer trying to avoid it. 
We see that impermanence is a river that runs through 
life, not a rock that stands in the way. We see that 
because we resist impermanence, pain and suffering are 
constants. We realize that pain comes from our desire 
for permanence. 

Contemplation helps us understand profound 
truths that we rarely consider, even though our life is 
contained by them. We contemplate these truths to 
bring about a shift in our understanding of reality, our 
perception of our life. When, during a meditation ses- 
sion, we hold our mind to the words "Everything is 
impermanent," the meaning begins to come through. 



When we have a glimpse of impermanence, we hold 
our mind to that realization. In this way we become 
familiar with a simple truth that we may have over- 
looked. We begin to live our lives with a deeper under- 

At this very instant the weather is changing, our 
hair is growing, people are dying and being born, and 
the earth is shifting on its axis as it circles round the 
sun. We're growing older. Perhaps our mood has 
changed since yesterday. No matter how clear this may 
be to our intellect, we tend to put ourselves into a trance, 
thinking things are permanent. We're hypnotized into 
thinking the world is permanent, we're permanent, 
relationships are permanent, feelings are permanent. 
But all of it is impermanent. This contemplation brings 
us to a very basic level of understanding. It brings us 
back to the middle of the saddle. 

When I was eight, I flew from India to England. I 
had never been in an airplane before. As we began to 
land in London, looking down I saw a world of tiny 
buildings, tiny streets, and tiny cars and trucks. This 
delighted me. I couldn't wait for the plane to land so 
that I could drive one of those little cars. But as we 
landed, that little world suddenly grew to adult propor- 
tions. It changed. 

The world is made of infinite moving parts. The 
mind produces a seeming continuity of events and 



ideas. What we call "war" is a series of calamities aris- 
ing from beliefs and opinions, which are always subject 
to change. What we call "peace" is the absence of 
aggression, a tenuous state. When it is winter, summer 
no longer exists. We organize our life around the con- 
cept of a solid self in a solid world, even though all of it 
is simply ideas and forms coming in and out of exis- 
tence, like thousands of stars flickering in the night. Is 
there anything that is not impermanent? 

In contemplating impermanence we can consider 
what permanence would mean. Permanence would be 
awkward. It would be an unchanging situation, iso- 
lated in space, unaffected by time or the elements. 
There would be no beginning and no end, no causes 
and conditions. Everything would last forever. There'd 
be no seasons. We'd never be born, grow up, fall in 
love, have children, grow old, or die. We'd never eat 
because we'd never be hungry. We couldn't be in rela- 
tionship to anything else, because it would change us. 
In contemplating impermanence, we see the impossi- 
bility of life being anything other than what it is. We 
begin to lighten up and enjoy the constant play of light 
and dark, of visible and invisible, of increase and 

Contemplating impermanence can be a liberating 
experience, one that brings both sobriety and joy. In 
essence, we become) less attached. We realize we can't 



really have anything. We have money and then it's 
gone; we have sadness and then it's gone. No matter 
how we want to cling to our loved ones, by nature 
every relationship is a meeting and a parting. This 
doesn't mean we have less love. It means we have less 
fixation, less pain. It means we have more freedom and 
appreciation, because we can relax into the ebb and 
flow of life. 

Understanding the meaning of impermanence 
makes us less desperate people. It gives us dignity. We 
no longer grasp at pleasure, trying to squeeze out every 
last drop. We no longer consider pain something we 
should fear, deny, and avoid. We know that it will 
change. This is a very strong direction toward opening 
the mind of enlightenment. We've learned to look at 
what's in front of us. We don't have to keep imitating 
an idea of permanent happiness: "If I work hard, I'm 
going to make a lot of money, and then 111 be happy." 
We see that happiness doesn't come about that way; it 
comes from cultivating the virtues that lead to enlight- 
enment. Ultimately, it comes from wisdom, from under- 
standing the unchanging truth of change. 



First We Get Old 

In a society as enamored of youth as ours, it is helpful 
to contemplate the process of aging. If we think about 
it and understand its place in our life, we can change 
our attitude toward aging. In this contemplation we 
place our mind on the meaning of the words "Aging is 
the nature of the human condition. I celebrate it. " 

Birth is a painful and wonderful event. From that 
moment on, we age. As a child we experience the pains 
of growing, of not knowing anything, of making 
friends in a newfound world. As an adolescent, we go 
through the pains of peer pressure and puberty. It all 
passes very quickly. When we're young, we want to be 
older. When we're older, perhaps we wish we were 

During the millennium celebrations, I watched a 
series of interviews with people who had lived for a 



hundred years or more. Each of them was asked, "If 
you could relive any period of your life, when would it 
be?" Universally, they said it would be their sixties. At 
that age they had maturity of mind, and at the same 
time they still had a body that could do what they 
wanted. One of them had started running marathons in 
his sixties, another had taken flying lessons. 

In terms of cultures, I straddle two worlds. In the 
West we fret about aging. We feel old, and we start act- 
ing old. In Tibet people don't seem to worry as much 
about aging. When I hear my mother and her genera- 
tion of Tibetans talk about getting old, the tone in their 
voice is proud. They're proud to have lived so long. 
They're cheerful. They have young minds. They're con- 
tinuously curious, always learning. One of my favorite 
Tibetan sayings is "Even if you're going to die tomor- 
row, you can learn something tonight." With this atti- 
tude we don't feel so old. 

Once when I was driving home from the airport 
with my mother late at night, we passed McDonald's. I 
said, "That's the most famous restaurant in America." 
She said, "That one?" I explained that there are many 
McDonald's restaurants and that many people don't 
approve of the food they serve. She said she wanted to 
give it a try. Since she mostly eats traditional Tibetan 
food, I didn't think she would like it. We took the 
drive-through at McDonald's, which was a brand-new 



experience for her. The whole process amazed her. I 
ordered her a burger, and as we drove away, she took 
her first bite. I asked her how she liked it. To my sur- 
prise and horror, she said, "It's perfect! The meat is 
hot, and the bread is soft." It turns out that she 
doesn't like many restaurants in America, but she 
loves McDonald's. 

In contemplating aging, perhaps we'll take a hint 
from our Tibetan friends and enjoy and appreciate 
growing old, as opposed to dreading it. We don't have 
to squeeze all the life out of our existence in an attempt 
to overcome the process of getting older. We can age 
with dignity. As we age we're wiser, more experienced; 
we have more wisdom to offer others. We can maintain 
our health and vitality with the right activity, food, and 
most of all, curiosity about life. We can learn to cele- 
brate the truth of aging without hiding in the shadows 
of denial and discursiveness. 



And Then We Die 

We spend most of our time avoiding death, not think- 
ing about it. When we do, it gives us the shivers. We 
might feel slightly surprised, knocked off balance. 
We're afraid of death, partly because we don't know 
what will happen, partly because we're afraid of the 
pain we might feel when it happens. When we peek 
into the door of death by contemplating it, its meaning 
begins to penetrate us. Contemplating death gives us 
strength because it liberates our fear. So we contem- 
plate the meaning of these words: "Death is my friend, 
my truest of friends, for it is always waiting for me." 

All around us life and death are performing a dance 
that brings texture to our existence. Death is our friend 
because it gives us life. Death defines life. If we didn't 
have death, we might not appreciate life. In every 



moment of our life, death is waiting for us. We're going 
to die. We don't know when we're going to die; we 
don't know how we're going to die. Everyone we know 
is going to die — our parents, our friends, our children, 
our pets, people we like, people we don't like, kings 
and queens, heads of state, movie stars, rock stars, rich 
people, poor people. All have the same fate. This body 
will be a corpse. 

Without being morbid about it, whenever death 
presents itself we can contemplate it. We can discuss it 
with our friends. If we come close to being hit by a bus, 
if we hurt ourselves in a car accident, if we get sick, we 
can ponder the permeable membrane between our life 
and our death. When someone close to us dies, we can 
look into death, question death, and let it transform us. 
"What is death about? Why is this happening?" Differ- 
ent traditions explain death in different ways. But 
when we experience the reality of death, it touches our 
life. It presents us with a deep mystery. Most of the 
time we might rather not investigate it. When we're 
directly under its influence, we can be open to it, try to 
understand it. 

When I heard that my father was gravely ill, it just 
wouldn't sink in that he was probably going to die. He 
was a great meditation master and Buddhist teacher. 
After the Chinese invaded Tibet, he escaped on foot, 



leading three hundred people over the mountains into 
India. He spent many years of his life planting the 
flower of dharma on the rock of North America. He 
was a master warrior. If anyone could elude death, it 
seemed like it would be him. His death would leave a 
huge hole in my life as well as the lives of many others. 

I was standing right next to him in the moment 
when he finally died. The space became very powerful 
and strong, almost luminous. There were no thoughts 
occurring. For days it was like that, as if reality had 
shifted. My whole life I had heard about death, had 
seen people who were dying and people who had died. 
But my father's death struck me in a different way. His 
mortality made me realize my own mortality. It made 
me realize everybody's mortality. It shook me out of my 
misconceptions. It profoundly changed my attitude. 
For many months I thought about how I was going to 
live the rest of my life. I realized that death is real. I 
mustn't waste time. I became much more dedicated to 
practice and study. Having this intimate experience of 
death helped me appreciate my life. 

We often conduct our life as though it's going to last 
forever. With this attitude, we want everything. The 
fact of death puts a limit on what we can have, what we 
can do. We don't need to think about death all the time, 
but to ponder it, to contemplate it, gives us perspective 
and inspiration about living our life. It also makes us 



less spoiled. It makes us look at the balance of our life 
and determine what needs to come first. What is 
important to me? How shall I use my life? We're able 
to enter situations more openly once we've related with 
death. It makes our love more powerful. 



Samsara and Karma 

Everything we experience, all the ups and clowns of 
our life, is fundamentally encapsulated in the word 
datruarcu Samsara is a wheel that is endlessly spinning. 
We think that life progresses in a straight line pointed 
in the direction of improvement, but in fact we're in a 
circle of illusion that keeps us ending up just where we 
started. Karma, the action of cause and effect, is what 
keeps us here. No matter who we are, we're caught in 
this process. 

Samsara always has to have the last word. We need 
one more thing to make us happy. One thing leads to 
the next, perpetuated by our desire to have final satis- 
faction. But the next experience feels uneasy, and we 
still need one more thing. We need to eat, then we need 
to listen to music, then we need to watch a movie, then 
we need to relax in a bath. The desire to feel satisfied is 



a continual process that drives our lives, and the end 
result is suffering. Samsara is not a sin; it's just what 
ends up happening when we're driven by negative 
emotions. What ends up happening is called suffering. 
From the perspective of the Buddha, we keep our- 
selves on this wheel lifetime after lifetime. 

The suffering of samsara exhibits itself in three par- 
ticular ways: the suffering of suffering, the suffering of 
change, and all-pervasive suffering. The suffering of 
suffering is very basic. Even being born into this life is 
painful. We cry because we have to leave our mother's 
body. Then we're brought into a world of heat and 
cold. To some degree we spend our whole life fortifying 
ourselves against these fundamental forms of suffering. 
Either we're putting on warm clothes to fight off the 
cold or building shelters to protect ourselves from the 
sun. With the suffering of suffering, we just can't win. 
We're late for a meeting, we lock our keys in the house, 
we cut our finger trying to get back in, then we get 
stuck in traffic, and when we finally arrive we discover 
that the meeting's been cancelled. That's the suffering 
of suffering. 

Then there's the suffering of change. Whatever our 
object of pleasure, it changes to pain. We experience 
this kind of suffering when we fall in and out of love. 
We experience it when we eat a delicious meal at a 
great new restaurant and then several hours later find 



ourselves in the bathroom with churning bowels and a 
stomachache. We experience it when the clothes we 
buy are no longer fashionable. We experience it when 
our own body, which has been our continual basis for 
pleasure, gets sick, falls apart, and nags us with its 
needs. This is the suffering of change. 

The third kind of suffering is all-pervasive suffer- 
ing. It stems from the reality that nothing is solid, that 
everything is conditioned and in flux. At an atomic 
level, everything is coming and going all the time. Con- 
sciousness itself is coming in and out of existence hun- 
dreds of times in the snap of a finger. The world we 
perceive and how we perceive it is constantly chang- 
ing. All-pervasive suffering is the inherent quality of 
this very process. No matter what we have, we can't 
fight the constant fluctuation and instability of exis- 
tence. This level of instability brings mental agitation. 

The point of contemplating samsara is not to feel 
overwhelmed or depressed, but to wake up to what 
samsara is and stop being fooled by it. Then we can 
give up trying to outwit samsara. We can give up the 
attitude that one of our schemes will result in perma- 
nent pleasure. We can recognize samsara, rise above it, 
and emerge from it. When we wake up in the morning 
we can tell ourselves that even though we'll experience 
suffering today, we don't need to be drawn into chasing 
our own tail trying to outsmart samsara. 



Samsara isn't a place, it's an attitude: "I'm real and 
everything's for me." When we become aware of this 
attitude and what creates it, we can start to change it. 
What creates samsara is that we keep trying to get plea- 
sure by engaging in nonvirtuous activity resulting from 
bewilderment, fixation, desire, aggression, jealousy, and 
pride. This leads not to pleasure but to suffering. 

Suffering is the karma of nonvirtuous activity. 
Karma means "action." In Tibetan we say (e. We tend to 
simplify the dynamic of karma by saying that one thing 
causes another. However, karma is more complex than 
that. There are many causes to any one effect. Think of 
all the conditions that must fall into place just for us to 
drive to work: good health, clothes to wear, a working 
car, no accidents on the way, knowing where the office 
is. Whatever happens is the result of many causes and 
conditions. Who grew the apple we eat? Who picked 
it? Who delivered it to the grocery store? Karma 
makes the world go round. 

We all want to be happy. No one wants to suffer. So 
the point of contemplating karma is to look at what 
causes and conditions come together to produce happi- 
ness, and what causes and conditions come together to 
produce suffering. Then we can point ourselves in the 
direction of happiness. 

If we're engaged in aggression and greed for the 
purpose oi making our life better, the end result will be 



pain. If that pain leads to further anger and jealousy, we 
shouldn't be surprised; it's just karma in action. Con- 
versely, actions based on virtues such as compassion, 
kindness, love, patience, and nonattachment lead to 
happiness. These are considered virtues because they 
elevate the mind above negative emotions. For example, 
if we practice nonaggression when we feel irritated with 
our spouse, instead of aggravating the situation with 
anger, we can resolve our differences peacefully and 
maintain harmony. Even though our patience may not 
be completely free of self-interest, nonetheless acting 
with virtue takes us toward the mind of enlightenment. 
By exercising virtue we'll eventually discover selfless- 
ness, emptiness, and luminosity. Acting from virtue 
leads to virtue, which leads to happiness. 

If we plant peaches, we're always going to get 
peaches. If we plant pears, we're always going to get 
pears. Karma works in just this way. If you plant 
non virtue — migewa — you get suffering. If you plant 
virtue — gewa — you get happiness. If we're using strong 
negative emotions to get what we want, and what we 
want is happiness, it's never going to work. Therefore 
we need to contemplate our intentions and actions. 
Contemplating samsara and karma strengthens our 
intention to point our life away from suffering and 
toward true happiness. 



Jumping into the 
Heart of the Buddha 

When we contemplate impermanence, illness, aging, 
death — and all the other aspects of our precious human 
birth, we see how fixated we are, how strong-willed 
and tenacious we've been about our version of reality. 
It's clear that this fixation has caused us suffering and 
pain: the more self -involved we are, the more anger, 
jealousy, pride, and other traumatic emotions we have. 
Whenever we seek more self-satisfaction, we end up 
with more suffering, from minor to extreme. In every 
case the suffering results from some kind of selfish 
intent. We see that we've acted this way because we 
took our emotions, concepts, and thoughts to be real. 
Through the power of our meditation, we also see that 
these emotions are fundamentally illusory and empty. 
We've sat through hours of being angry and hours of 



being desirous and at the end it was all like a dream. It 
becomes clear to us that this simple misunderstanding 
is working against our happiness and well-being. 

This is just what we need to open the mind of 
enlightenment: clear insight into the dynamics of be- 
wilderment and suffering. We have to understand the 
nature of suffering and the origin of suffering. Once we 
do this, we've got the perspective of an enlightened 
being, which gives us a window to the world. We see 
that everyone wants to be happy, just like us, and that 
other beings also are creating a tremendous amount of 
pain and suffering based on illusory experiences that 
they take to be real. We begin to feel a genuine empa- 
thy with the suffering they're experiencing. We want 
their suffering to cease. 

This is the birth of compassion. Compassion enlarges 
our heart. The Tibetan word for compassion is nyingje. 
Nying means essence, or heart. Je means lord, noble. 
Compassion is having the mind of the noble heart. 
Those of the noble-hearted family are warrior bodhi- 
sattvas, who have superior view and intention because 
their hearts are big and courageous. They want to do 
something about others' suffering. 

Compassion gives rise to love. Love is the wish for 
others to be happy, for them to accomplish whatever 
their mind desires — whether it's material or mental — 
whatever they wish for in order to be fulfilled. This 



love and compassion is called bodhichitta, "awakened 
heart," because a mind that is enlightened naturally 
and unconditionally cares for the welfare of others. In 
Tibet bodhichitta is called changchup dem. We can take 
this to mean, "Until all beings achieve the level of a 
buddha, I will be courageous in working for the happi- 
ness of others." This expresses the motivation of the 
bodhisattva warrior, one who vows to develop his 
enlightened mind in order to help others. 

What the Buddha discovered is that we all have 
bodhichitta, ripe for nourishment. Within the bewil- 
dering maelstrom of thoughts and emotions that keep 
our sense of self solid, each of us already has the seeds 
of love and compassion. Bodhichitta is the radiant 
heart that is constantly and naturally, without self- 
consciousness, generating love and compassion for the 
benefit of others. It's a stream of love and compassion 
that connects us all, without fixation or attachment. It 
has a tender sadness to it, like a wound that remains 
eternally exposed. It's our true nature. Cultivating this 
quality will soften our future because, given the proper 
conditions, the enlightened mind will blossom like a 
flower. When this happens, we will be in sync with 
how things really are. 

The mind of enlightenment emerges whenever we 
find ourselves wishing for someone else's happiness 
without wanting anything in return. Bodhichitta is as 



big as that selfless moment when a parent would do 
anything to free a child of suffering. However, it can 
also be expressed in little ways, such as wishing that 
someone could have some food to eat or do well in their 
exam or work. That moment of delight and care is bod- 
hichitta. It is our inherent awakeness peeking out like a 
jewel spontaneously arising from our open heart. It's 
our true wealth, a blessing that is always available. It 
can arise anywhere — in the middle of an argument, in 
the middle of reading a book, in the middle of a walk — 
whenever we feel the wish to help a child, an animal, an 
old person, a friend — unconditionally, with no expec- 
tations. It also arises in the feeling of compassion, when 
we want the pain of others — the cut on their finger, the 
cancer they suffer — to stop. 

Throughout our lives we've experienced bodhi- 
chitta, but in a fleeting way. Sometimes we feel vast 
unconditional compassion or love — but then it fades, 
like the sun coming and going, or a shooting star. It is 
very vibrant, but it dissipates quickly. It feels like an 
anomaly because we're not used to it. It might have 
popped its head out, but we squashed it back. We 
didn't have space for this tender, open, courageous 
warrior heart to grow, because there was only room for 
"me" — my concerns, my wishes. Now that our minds 
are softer, more pliable, the natural joy of our being can 
expand. In contemplating bodhichitta, we're trying to 



mold our mind to the point where extending uncondi- 
tional love and compassion is our mainstay, our basic 

To develop bodhichitta involves a fundamental 
change of attitude. The point is to gradually change the 
object of our meditation from ourselves to others. Our 
mind has been so used to facing inward that it will take 
a transformation for it to face outward. In fact, our 
whole existence has been turned inward, so it is going 
to take some massaging to turn it around. This shift is 
sparked by seeing that the habit of always thinking of 
ourselves only keeps us unhappy. To extend ourselves 
to others is the route to true happiness. 

The point of this practice is that by feeling the love 
and compassion we have, we can make it bigger, with 
the aspiration that eventually, just like the Buddha, we 
will be able to extend our open hearts toward everyone 
we meet. To do that, we need to practice rousing bodhi- 
chitta regularly. 

As with all contemplations, rousing bodhichitta 
depends on a strong and stable mind. With peaceful 
abiding as our base, we can bring a feeling to our hearts 
and keep it there without distraction. In turn, as we 
contemplate compassion and love, we are strengthen- 
ing our mindfulness. First we feel the love or compas- 
sion we have now f or someone close to us. We saturate 
ourselves in this feeling and then gradually expand our 



circle to include acquaintances, "neutral" people, irri- 
tating people, and eventually all sentient beings. With 
cultivation, this mind of bodhichitta will arise sponta- 
neously with whomever we encounter. 

We begin our contemplation by resting in the open 
field of equanimity. With this attitude, we're letting go 
of fixed ideas of enemy and friend, which is our usual 
way of dividing up the world. We tend to have very 
strong opinions about who we love and who we don't, 
usually based on whether someone makes us feel good 
or bad. These concepts are changing all the time: a 
lover becomes an enemy, an enemy becomes a friend. 
The good guys become the bad guys and vice versa. 
We maintain this view in subtle ways: even among ani- 
mals, for instance, we think of sharks as bad and bunny 
rabbits as good, butterflies as beautiful and mosquitoes 
as obnoxious. Now we're going to let go of our opin- 
ions and level the playing field. We want to develop 
unconditional love and compassion for everyone and 
everything. If we focus only on those we love, rousing 
bodhichitta will become an exercise in attachment. 

When the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1959, everyone 
who could escape became a refugee. This included the 
Dalai Lama, other government and religious leaders, 
wealthy landowners, and the poorest nomads and 
farmers. When the refugees arrived in India, no matter 
what their social status had been in Tibet, none of them 



had a home. Everyone was equal. Ruler and subject, 
lama and monk, rich and poor alike had to make the 
best of being a political refugee in a foreign country. 
The field was leveled. 

To encourage equanimity, we can take the attitude 
that everyone we encounter, directly or indirectly, has 
been kind to us. The driver of the bus takes us where 
we need to go. People work at night so we can read the 
news at breakfast. A total stranger grew the potato we 
ate at lunch. Even someone who irritates us might give 
us the time of day if we ask. If we believe in reincarna- 
tion, a traditional way in which we can elicit the atti- 
tude of equanimity is to imagine that at some point over 
many lifetimes every single sentient being has been our 
mother. Every single being we encounter has offered 
us the unconditional love and protection of a mother, as 
we have offered it to every single being. The person sit- 
ting next to us on the airplane has in one lifetime or 
another been our mother or father, friend or child or 
sibling. The point of invoking equanimity is to release 
our attachment to opinions, to let go of our relative 
notions of like and dislike. 

With this attitude, we start where we are. We bring 
to mind someone for whom we feel tenderness, love, 
and care at this very moment. It could be our mother, 
our husband or wife, our child, a friend, or our cat or 
dog. The important thing is that when we think about 



this person or animal, our heart automatically goes out 
to them. One reason we feel love or compassion for this 
person is that they themselves care for us. We think of 
that person and our heart automatically gets bigger. 
Somehow they've brought joy, friendship, comfort to 
our life. When we think of their kindness, we wish to 
repay it. Our hearts are already open and connected. 
With no strings attached, we want them to be happy. 
We don't want them to suffer. So we begin our aspira- 
tion with what we wish for that person: "I hope that my 
brother has a safe journey," "May Diane's surgery be 
a success," or simply, "May David enjoy happiness." 
We connect with the love and compassion that we 
easily feel. 

Accessing this immediate feeling makes a little 
crack in the hard ground around our heart. A beam of 
light comes out, like the tender shoots of a crocus pok- 
ing through the ground in early spring. This is bodhi- 
chitta. We settle in that light, that growth; we rest 
there. We soften around it, we revel in it like a flower in 
sunshine. It feels refreshing and wonderful, and we 
only want it to grow bigger. More light comes through, 
more love, more care. We completely absorb ourselves 
in the natural joy of this bodhichitta. There's a sense of 
relief. It's like discovering that everything we ever 
wanted for others and ourselves is already contained in 



our own hearts. It's like waking from a dream. The 
longer we relax in this energy the bigger it gets. 

Contemplating bodhichitta takes a lot of letting go. 
When we do this practice, what might come up are 
hopes and fears about our loved ones, negative thoughts 
about people whom we don't like or about painful 
events. We don't deal with these distractions by over- 
riding them with the pretense of love. As we return to 
the words "May this one know happiness" or "May 
this one be free of suffering," something deeper than 
the emotional disturbance tells us that it's okay, we can 
let the anger dissipate. That something is bodhichitta 
expanding. Like the peace we experience in shamatha, 
this bodhichitta is intrinsic, a natural resting place. 
Hqwever, we must practice becoming familiar with it 
and train in making it bigger. 

As we stabilize ourselves in the warmth and open- 
ness of our feeling for our loved one, we become able to 
radiate it in a wider arc. Now we make it big enough to 
include someone with whom we're not quite so close. 
We can start by wishing for the happiness of a neigh- 
bor or an acquaintance. "May Jared's friend get the job 
he wants." We begin to realize that just like our loved 
one, this person too deserves our care and kindness. 
If we feel more daring, we can wish people the root 
of happiness, which is that they discover their basic 



goodness. We can wish that they find their way out of 
bewilderment and suffering. Everyone deserves to be 
happy; no one deserves to suffer. Thus we extend this 
feeling to them. We're beginning to see that we have 
plenty of love and compassion to share. As we generate 
these feelings, they bring an actual sense of relief. It's 
like the sun melting a piece of ice in our heart into a 
warm inviting pool in which we can bathe. The more 
we do the practice, the bigger the pool gets, and the 
more people we can invite in to share it. This wealth is 
self-sustaining: the more we generate, the more we 

Now we can extend our hearts to people we hardly 
know — on the street, at the office. We can look in their 
eyes and see in them that they're just like me, just like 
my child, just like my mother, my brother, my wife, my 
husband. We can even extend love and compassion to 
people we see on television, to people we read about in 
the newspaper. They may not be my wife or friend, but 
we all need love, we all need care. It's as if we are on 
fire with love and care f or others. The happiness of oth- 
ers becomes our happiness. It's like inviting someone 
over for dinner. We make the food, and we're com- 
pletely engrossed in whether they like it and if they're 
having a good time. If they're happy, it makes us happy. 

Now the tender young shoot has grown into an 
enormous stalk. In generating love and compassion, 



we've entered the heart of the Buddha, where there is 
limitless love and compassion for all. It's a free-flowing 
energy that isn't even particularly ours, and it connects 
us with everyone, beyond the limitations of personali- 
ties and concepts. Now we can bring to mind people 
whom we don't even like and radiate the warmth of 
love or compassion to them. 

Next we can extend bodhichitta to all sentient 
beings. We can use the aspiration "May all sentient be- 
ings experience happiness" or "May all sentient beings 
be free from suffering," and rest there in the middle of 
an enormous circle of fire that is burning so brightly 
that we no longer feel separate from any of them. This 
is the power of bodhichitta, the great mind of enlight- 
enment. It is the mind of the bodhisattva warrior, who 
can care for all beings infinitely. 

When we get up from our meditation session, we 
can keep the fire in our heart burning. We can carry 
that warmth, that intention to care for the well-being of 
others, into every moment of our lives. When we do 
that we are more awake to our enlightened qualities 
immediately. We're riding on windhorse — the energy 
of basic goodness that has been ours from beginning- 
less time. If we are diligent in generating love and com- 
passion, at some point it will spontaneously arise in any 
situation. It's like jumping into the heart of enlighten- 
ment, which is the same as our own heart. When we 



awaken the heart of enlightenment, it's not simply what 
we have, it is what we are. 

If we spend part of the morning and part of the 
evening generating bodhichitta, we can reflect back on 
our day and feel genuinely good that we did something 
worthwhile. We were courageous enough to take time 
out from the "me" schedule to think of others. In order 
for our mind to do that, it has to come out of itself. It 
has to be less preoccupied with its own concerns. It has 
to stretch just a little bit. In doing this, we're actually 
extending love and compassion to ourselves as well. 

It's not that we have to think about every single 
other person on the planet all the time. Rousing bodhi- 
chitta means that we're actively engaging in thoughts 
of both self and other, in subject and object. Just by 
thinking beyond "me," we're recycling; we're giving 
something back to the earth and to the world. Just by 
thinking, "May she be happy," rather than "May / be 
happy," we've begun to change the structure of our life, 
and, to a certain degree, the structure of the whole 
world. There are so many people on Earth — how many 
of us are sitting on a cushion with a calm mind, gener- 
ating love and compassion in our being? How many of 
us even know that we can do this? Even if we know, 
how many of us make time to do it? 

When we generate this mind of enlightenment, we 
discover that it produces happiness and peace in our- 



selves. Contemplating, thinking about, and generating 
bodhichitta is a sure way to be happy, to be at peace. 
Having kindness and compassion in the face of suffer- 
ing leads to the genuine desire to achieve enlighten- 
ment. That's why happiness is known as virtue in the 
Shambhala Buddhist tradition, because what virtue 
produces is more virtue. And how we experience virtue 
is happiness. 





Rousing Motivation 

The Tibetan word for motivation is kiinlong. It means 
"to rise above, to come up." Rousing our motivation by 
making it bigger is how we rise above samsara. It takes 
courage to make our motivation bigger. The first step 
in expanding our motivation is to stop and notice what 
we're doing. We can start by asking, "What's the point 
of my life, its genuine meaning? What is my motivation 
in living this life?" The more we contemplate motiva- 
tion, the more potent and powerful a force it becomes. 

Traditionally there are a few different levels of 
motivation by which we might live. These motivations 
are the natural development of our human potential. 
The first motivation is to take care of our material 
needs. This is a commonsense motivation. We need to 
eat, dress, and stay warm. It's good to take care of our 
family and ourselves. If this is our only motivation, 
however, we're not fulfilling our human potential. , 



The second motivation is slightly broader: we com- 
bine our worldly aims with spiritual practice. Many 
practitioners in our culture are motivated by worldly 
concerns and use spirituality to successfully accom- 
plish their wishes. It's fine to use spiritual practice to 
get what we want. People have always made offerings 
to the gods in order to ensure a plentiful harvest. It 
should be clear, however, that at the heart of this 
motivation lies the desire to please ourselves. The 
danger of this motivation is that we can trick our- 
selves into thinking that we're becoming less worldly 
when what we're really doing is distorting practice to 
fortify our comfort zone. This is a common pitfall, not 
a crime. 

My father often taught about "cutting through spiri- 
tual materialism." This means cutting through our 
attempts to use spirituality to feed our solid self. The 
Buddha also taught that stability, the peace that comes 
through meditation, can become just as much a trap as 
any old desire. We can create a Goldilocks zone out of 
our practice and hide there. We can become "spiritual 
junkies," motivated only by what makes us feel good. 
So much of what passes as spirituality these days is 
really about pleasure seeking, getting high. This self- 
absorption disguised as spirituality only leads to more suf- 
fering. Real spirituality is about getting grounded. Once 
we understand who we are, we can realize the needs of 



others and do something about helping them. Being 
grounded in who we are is known as basic goodness. 

Our motivation stretches further when we begin to 
think about how our current actions might affect us 
after death. This larger motivation comes from seeing 
the vast interconnection of cause and effect and the fact 
that our present activities directly affect what will hap- 
pen to us in the future. With this motivation, we prac- 
tice spiritual teachings to assure a favorable afterlife or 
rebirth, depending on our beliefs. In traditional Bud- 
dhist cultures, people are motivated by the desire to 
accumulate merit. Merit is like a series of domino chain 
reactions that enable positive results in this and future 
lifetimes. Tibetan nomads go on long religious pilgrim- 
ages, sometimes prostrating themselves for months on 
end across vast, desolate plains and mountain ranges. 
They do this to show their heartfelt devotion for the 
living teachings of the Buddha. But underneath their 
activity lies the motivation to do something now that 
will lead to larger future happiness. 

Traveling in Tibet, I was so touched by the devotion 
of the nomadic people. Everyone makes offerings to 
the local monastery. People with almost no money give 
generously to teachers and monks. Whenever I was 
staying at a monastery, village people would line up for 
hours, pushing and shoving to be able to offer what 
little they had. People also spend their time carving 



mantras on stones and circumambulating sacred places. 
While meditating and making offerings is the founda- 
tion of their culture, their real motivation is to make 
things work out well for themselves later. They are less 
focused on "me" right now and more interested in how 
they can prepare for death as well as rebirth. They 
know that attaining personal enlightenment can take 
many lifetimes, so they're setting themselves up with 
meritorious activity in order to establish conditions for 
a favorable rebirth and ultimate enlightenment. In 
Buddhist terms this would mean being born human 
under circumstances in which we can hear and practice 
the dharma. This motivation is yet a larger version of 
the "have a nice day" approach. We're trying to get 
everything in order and make it work out in the long 
run. We want our nice day to last longer. 

In the next, larger motivation we see clearly that 
the chain reaction of causes and conditions that domi- 
nate our world is cyclical, endless, and fundamentally 
dissatisfying. Perhaps we've struggled through one 
relationship after another, or we have continual prob- 
lems with our family or at work. Something opens our 
eyes to the depth of bewilderment and the darkness of 
samsara. We see that pain, suffering, impermanence, 
and death are the facts of life. 

When we enter into this larger motivation, we break 
out of thinking that we can get what we want from the 



circle of suffering. We see its endless quality, and we 
want the giant wheel to stop. Our motivation here is to 
break out of the cycle, and seek freedom from suffering. 

All these motivations are considered small because 
they center on our own happiness, as opposed to the hap- 
piness of others. However, each one is slightly larger than 
the one before, because its perspective is bigger. What 
marks the border between small motivation and great 
motivation is a shift in focus from our own happiness to 
that of others. Using our lives to bring benefit to others is 
considered a great motivation. Having this motivation of 
the warrior bodhisattva is how we generate bodhichitta. 
Bodhichitta is the best mind we have, and rousing the 
courage to live from it is the greatest motivation there is. 
It's this motivation that leads to enlightenment. 

Knowing why we suffer, knowing that there's some- 
thing we can do about it, leads us to dedicate our life to 
the service of others, who suffer just as we do. Having 
already understood our own suffering, we are no 
longer fearful of it We have the courage to extend gen- 
uine compassion to others, not because we think we're 
better than they are, but because we know we're all the 
same. We know that, just like us, they have basic good- 
ness. We know that, just like us, they suffer because 
they don't know their own wealth. We know that just 
like us, they could awaken the mind of enlightenment 
by rousing bodhichitta. This gives birth to greater 



compassion. The more confident we become in our 
own natural state, the more we want to help others see 
theirs. This wisdom becomes the sun within our hearts 
and compassion becomes the moon that shines above. 

This is the motivation of an enlightened being, the 
motivation that has no boundaries and extends as far as 
the mind itself. Bringing benefit to others could take 
many forms, but the ultimate benefit is to help others 
awaken from bewilderment and suffering by helping 
them see their basic goodness. We take the welfare of 
all beings to be our responsibility and strive for unsur- 
passed enlightenment as the means to bring about the 
same enlightenment in others. We're so intimate with 
the roots of bewilderment and suffering that we cannot 
help but feel love and compassion for everyone. We 
would go to the ends of the earth to alleviate the suffer- 
ing of others. We would work for the benefit of others 
for thousands and thousands of endless lifetimes. Even 
though we may not believe that there are many life- 
times, our courage is that big. We have that kind of for- 
titude and visionary perspective. 

This is the way of a warrior bodhisattva, a being 
inspired to attain enlightenment. Obviously it's a wor- 
thy motivation, but it's important to be honest with 
ourselves and to start where we are. We need the 
ground beneath our feet in order to walk farther. We 
can expand our motivation gradually. That's the point 



of becoming familiar with our motivation and begin- 
ning to rouse it. We do this by contemplating it. 

Contemplating motivation requires the willingness 
to slow down, open up, and tune in to our life. What's 
going on right now? What's propelling us? Our moti- 
vation changes from day to day. Once we're aware that 
we have a motivation, we can always make it bigger, 
even when we're feeling stressed or overwhelmed. We 
can practice rousing it as a way to open our heart 
beyond our own suffering — to relax into the bodhi- 
chitta that connects us all. 

In contemplating our motivation, we see that some- 
times we're stuck in our hard, tightly closed mind. 
What will pull us out of our slump? Sometimes loosen- 
ing up by taking a shower or a walk or a rest might be 
the way to open into a larger motivation. Perhaps we 
do some yoga or meditate for a few minutes in order to 
feel better, a little stronger. At some point we might see 
that getting comfortable cheers us up, but only for a 
little while. That's a glimpse of renunciation. Then our 
heart might soften a little as we think of our friend who 
was in a car accident and can't do yoga anymore. Com- 
passion arises in our mindstream and we're no longer 
just thinking about our own well-being. Our heart and 
mind have softened and grown; just by caring for 
another, we have entered into the courageous motiva- 
tion of awakened heart. 



We each have the potential to ally our minds with this 
vast motivation. It requires knowing our own strength, 
which is why we meditate. We can soften and open 
ourselves beyond our tight circle in order to live life big. 
Taking this journey requires discipline, diligence, and 
fortitude, but like all journeys, it starts with one step. 

Try it. Tomorrow morning when you open your 
eyes, sit up in bed, take a deep breath, and ask yourself: 
"Okay, what does my mind feel like? How am I going 
to approach this day? What's driving me?" Bring to 
mind some of the different motivations. Contemplate 
your motivation for a few seconds or as a five- or ten- 
minute ritual that begins your day Every human being 
already has a motivation. You have an opportunity to 
get to know yours and to turn your mind to the motiva- 
tion of the warrior bodhisattva. 

The good news is that awakened heart is in harmony 
with the vast motivation. In fact, it L) vast motivation. 
The mind of enlightenment is naturally big and open, 
caring and kind. It is only the discursiveness of our 
wild-horse mind and the baggage of our solid sense of 
self that keep us feeling small and claustrophobic. True 
happiness is opening the mind of enlightenment. How 
do we get from here to there? By rousing motivation. 
Our motivation is what paves the path from bewilder- 
ment and suffering to wisdom. 



Wisdom and 

I spend a lot of time studying traditional texts on Bud- 
dhism. Studying is a deep exercise in understanding 
the teachings, and in a way it's like a strategy game that 
requires always being on the ball. I'll be reading along 
as some ancient master is describing his understanding 
of a topic like meditation. He is commenting on how to 
practice, what the mind should be like, what kind of 
motivation to have, and so forth. I'll be thinking, "This 
sounds really good!" Then at the end of the chapter I 
read, "By the way, this isn't the whole picture." And the 
text proceeds to describe in detail how all that was just 
said is only relatively true. 

There is always farther to go on the spiritual path. 
We think that we've arrived at a place that is really "it, " 
but then something pulls the rug out from under us, 



pushing us beyond that view into a deeper insight. It 
never quite works to build a comfort zone out of medi- 
tation. If we're meditating properly, our practice and 
understanding will always take us a little further than 
we might think we want to go. By resting in the true 
meaning of our contemplation, we're becoming famil- 
iar with our own wisdom. We 're beginning to see real- 
ity as it is. Just as we open our perspective beyond 
what we ever thought it could be, our wisdom thrusts 
us into yet a vaster world. This is how we keep moving 
on the path. At each stage of contemplative meditation, 
we're encountering a deeper level of knowing. 

The aspect of the mind that knows its own actions 
isdhe^hin, "awareness," "presently knowing." Our mind 
is always subject to being distracted by thoughts of 
what happened in the past and ideas of what could 
happen in the future, but the living experience is what 
is happening now. The mind comes in and out of exis- 
tence on a momentary basis, and thus the ability to 
know also comes in and out of existence on a momen- 
tary basis. Now is a fleeting moment, but it is knowable. 
It's a moment of freshness, a full involvement in the 
immediate present. Meditation trains us in the awe- 
some power of the mind to be completely present with 
what is happening now. 

Awareness gives us the ability to know what we're 
doing, and insight — vipashyana — gives us the ability to 



penetrate it. We're no longer simply sauntering 
through or slipping by or spacing out, unaware of our 
own lives. The power of awareness tells us how the 
mind feels, what it's experiencing, the quality of our 
meditation, and how we're conducting it. It notices the 
transitory and illusory nature of thoughts, emotions, 
and concepts. Insight is the higher view that draws 
conclusions about what awareness sees. It pene- 
trates phenomena, our mind, confusion — all that we 
encounter — and sees its true nature, its meaning. At 
this point, an amazing transformation takes place. The 
simple act of awareness combined with the reflective 
capacity of insight begins to develop a deeper element 
called prajna. Prajna is the mind's natural intelligence. 
The word means "best knowledge, highest knowledge, 
most sublime knowledge." It's the ability to know what 
id. In contemplating concepts like impermanence, the 
precious opportunity of being born human, and bodhi- 
chitta, we use conceptual understanding to open the 
doorway to our wisdom. 

To understand the truth of reality, we have to have 
a mind that is not completely overwhelmed by prefab- 
ricated patterns and has roused the motivation to be 
truly compassionate in its quest. Our understanding 
is continuous and cumulative: we keep having little 
insights about the nature of reality, and they build 
upon each other. For example, the pain we feel when 



we hold on to our solid sense of self and the joy we feel 
when we rest in our natural state opens the door into 
compassion for the suffering of others. 

Our relative wisdom — causal prajna — takes us 
beyond the concept of "me," directly into the reality of 
our experience. It creates the conditions for the final 
result, which is nonconceptual understanding. 

What is nonconceptual understanding? It's the 
intuitive insight that knows the truth directly, not 
through reason or logic, but beyond the realm of 
thought. Let's say we've never seen the moon. Hearing 
about it paints a conceptual picture in our mind. Some- 
one draws a moon in the sand for us and this makes it 
more concrete, but it's still only an idea. Then one clear 
night we see the moon reflected in water. Though this 
image seems closer to the truth, we still don't know the 
moon itself. Finally someone points to the sky and 
we see the moon directly. Now we know the moon. 
It's said that seeing is believing — yet nonconceptual 
understanding is beyond belief. The moon itself is 
beyond the words, the picture, the reflection, and the 
finger. This is where prajna takes us — beyond. True 
reality is without concept, beyond the duality of this 
and that. True prajna, true knowledge, is direct experi- 
ence. It's knowing without the filter of self. Direct 
experience is wisdom itself — unborn, unceasing, nei- 
ther still nor moving. 



It's prajna that will take us beyond conceptual mind 
to discover basic goodness, step by step. It's prajna that 
will give us a glimpse into the totality of the heart of the 
universe, which is of the same nature as our own. 

Through prajna we discover that there is no physi- 
cal cohesion to what we see, yet appearances continue 
to arise. Our passion arises. What makes up the object 
of our desire ? The very thing that hooks us — a feeling, 
a meal, or another person — is made of parts, and those 
parts can be broken down infinitely. When we look 
for a solid self, where is it? Is it in our feelings? Medita- 
tion has shown us how effervescent these are. Is it 
in our body? Then where? In the arms, the legs, the 
head, the heart? We can't find the self in any of these 
forms. Even if we come to the conclusion that we're all 
these parts, they don't hold together as a solid self. 
There's something more than form to us; there's also 

Consciousness comes in many forms. It also is not 
solid. There's a consciousness associated with sight, 
with sound, with taste, with touch, with smell. That's 
how we know what we perceive. We also have a mental 
consciousness, within which we have memories, ideas, 
and dreams. These memories, thoughts, and dreams 
are based on sense perceptions. These sense percep- 
tions are how we know form. And with prajna we 
understand that those forms are not solid. One of the 



more provocative Buddhist teachings puts it this way: 
"Form is emptiness, emptiness also is form." 

Our investigation begins to show us that "me," 
which at first seemed so solid, isn't solid at all. When 
we disassemble it, we can't find anything. Seeing the 
reality of no self is a preliminary understanding of pro- 
found emptiness. Yet all the same, we do perceive a 
self, and the world also appears to be quite real. Some- 
one asked the Buddha about this: "If there's no self, 
who's this talking to you here, and what's this world I 
see?" He replied, "What you see are dkandhaj, heaps, 
aggregates. They are form, feeling, perception, mental 
formation, and consciousness." He placed rice on the 
ground and said, "The self is like this pile of rice. When 
you look at it, it seems to be one whole entity. When 
you look closer, it breaks down into grains of rice, and 
those grains of rice can be broken down still further. 
Thus things appear to have form, yet they are empty 
of form." 

Contemplating the Buddha's words may just give 
us a small glimpse of emptiness, based on a conception. 
We may not believe what we see, but a seed of under- 
standing is planted. This loosens up our solid sense 
of self. That's the beginning of prajna, the beginning 
of the mind being able to truly see what's happening. 
Prajna needs our involvement and our inquisitiveness. 
We may not experience ourselves as emptiness, but 



after contemplating it for a while, it's possible to come 
to the conclusion that yes, there is really no "me." This 
is how prajna begins to make sense of who we are — or 
are not — and of our environment as well. It is said that 
at the time of death this profound understanding dawns 
on us naturally because we feel our bodies falling apart, 
yet our consciousness remains and is able to know. 
All that was "me" has gone off in the ten directions. 
But if we contemplate the truth of emptiness now, we 
don't have to wait until that particular moment to dis- 
cover it. Meditation is how we prepare ourselves for 
death — and for life. Meditation is a process of becom- 
ing comfortable with our own wisdom, which is direct 
experience of the ultimate truth. 

For a very long time we've held the view that things 
exist and are real. When we begin to really look at 
things, when we start to break things down to a minute 
level, we see that there's nothing inherent. We can look 
as much as we want, but we'll never find anything that is 
solidly here. The ultimate truth is emptiness, suchness — 
in Sanskrit, dhunyata. Emptiness is at the base of all 
that we experience. That's not to say that nothing exists 
on a relative level. Rather, there's an all-pervasive qual- 
ity that something doesn't seem quite right, and that 
quality is emptiness. We mustn't be misled into think- 
ing that emptiness is nihilism or nonexistence, because 
this emptiness transcends existence and nonexistence, 



both and neither. This is known as ta dhi tro tret, "free- 
dom from the four extremes." 

This emptiness is inseparable from the wisdom 
inherent in our own mind. This emptiness of our wis- 
dom mind has radiance. Thus the nature of wisdom 
mind is known as luminosity emptiness. In the same 
way, the sun shines inseparably from the empty space it 
inhabits. This suchness is the nature of all. It is basic 
goodness — simply what is. This is how an enlightened 
being experiences the world. Everything is inseparable 
luminosity and emptiness, whether we see it clearly or 
not. Prajna awakens the potential to see it directly, and 
this gives rise to great joy or bliss. 

Prajna is where view and meditation meet. The 
view is our understanding, and practice is how we 
make it our own. If we want to understand the stability, 
clarity, and strength of our mind, we practice shamatha. 
If we want to begin to understand emptiness, we con- 
template the self and try to find it. It isn't that we vault 
from taming the mind to contemplation into noncon- 
ceptual emptiness. We don't pledge our allegiance to 
the Buddha and prepare to jump. It's a gentle transi- 
tion. Practicing shamatha has made our mind subtle 
and supple enough to understand these profound truths. 
The more we practice, the more we realize that the 
rock we're standing on — the fabricated self — is far 



from solid. Through practice and understanding, the 
rock begins dissolving. In discovering emptiness, we're 
not leaping anywhere. Practice wears away the rock, 
like water dripping for aeons. By the time we see what's 
happening, we've overcome our fear of falling off. We 
know the suffering caused by the simple misunder- 
standing that there was something to stand on. We want 
1 practice to wear away the illusion of a self. 

Of course, keeping a grip on ourselves is an old and 
very deeply rooted pattern. It takes ongoing courage 
and hard labor to give it up. The fact of the matter is, 
however, that whether we hold on to it or give it up, the 
self has never existed. It's like a mirage. Within sam- 
sara we're never going to find true existence. Nor will 
we find it in nirvana. As long as we invest in this illu- 
sion, it's never going to be a perfect day; something's 
always going to go wrong. The pleasure we hope for is 
always turning into the pain we fear. Wisdom, on the 
other hand, is free from change. 

Prajna is how we become familiar with the true 
nature of reality. We see that samsara is not a place, but 
a mistaken view, a way of freezing reality into a con- 
cept. We see how this pattern has led to our own suf- 
fering. We feel compassion because it's clear that 
everyone suffers from the same delusion, and it causes 
so much pain. This wisdom and compassion can lead to 



full enlightenment, full awakening from this dreamlike 
existence, complete knowledge and understanding of 
who and where we are (or are not). 

Experiencing the true nature of reality brings great 
joy, raptu gawa. Directly seeing this suchness, we know 
that enlightenment is possible. We've climbed to the 
top of the hill and peeked over, and we see a beautiful 
lake and a meadow. We look back and see that others 
are struggling very hard up the hill. Like the Buddha, 
now we can say, "If it's possible for me, it's possible for 
everybody. I can go help bring those people up." This is 
the aspiration of the warrior bodhisattva and the basis 
of enlightened society. 


Warrior in the World 

When we talk about enlightened society, we aren't 
talking about some Utopia where everyone's enlight- 
ened. We're talking about a culture of human beings 
who know the awakened nature of basic goodness and 
invoke its energy in order to courageously extend 
themselves to others. Their motivation is allied with 
compassion, love, and wisdom. This enlightened atti- 
tude is not inhibited: it accommodates and incorporates 
the vicissitudes of life. 

To meet our basic goodness, we meditate. Through 
peaceful abiding, we learn to rest fearlessly in our 
natural state. We see what an enlightened being sees: 
basic goodness is the ground of being, the nature of 
everything; it's an indestructible continuum, a diamond 
hologram with infinite facets. Through contemplation 
we discover that, like the reflection of a jewel in the 



sunlight, it is empty. In continuing to contemplate, we 
see that this emptiness is vibrant and dynamic — a play- 
ful display of thoughts, emotions, and perceptions. 
This is luminosity. 

We experience basic goodness when we relax 
deeply into how things are, without wanting to change 
them. From that supple state, bodhichitta naturally 
flows. This is the mind of enlightenment. By using 
meditation to dissolve the illusion of "me, " we ally our- 
selves with it. Now we can rely on its energy, just as we 
can rely on the energy of a horse. The majestic spirit of 
our wild-horse mind has been tamed and gathered into 
windhorse, the primordial energy of basic goodness. 
Our practice now lies in riding it. 

We call it windhorde because its nature is uplifted, 
strong, exuberant, and brilliant. It's running and the 
mane is flying. When I was in Tibet I saw windhorse in 
the bearing of warriors on horseback who were 
dressed as King Gesar, Tibet's epic hero. Making the 
mind an ally gives us the power to ride the radiant 
windhorse in any situation. Riding the energy of basic 
goodness is like riding the rays of a sun that is always 
rising. In the Shambhala Buddhist tradition we call it 
the Great Eastern Sun. Everything we encounter shines 
with the dignity and splendor of basic goodness, and 
we see a sacred world. With this view, we are begin- 
ning to lay the foundation of an enlightened society. 



How do we live from the stainless pure ground of 
basic goodness? How do we generate a compassionate 
heart in every encounter? How do we plant the flower 
of bodhichitta on the rock of a dark age ? The quickest, 
most practical way to do this is to keep loosening our 
grip on ourselves. This is when windhorse is most 
accessible. It all comes back to one of my favorite say- 
ings, "If you want to be miserable, think about your- 
self. If you want to be happy, think of others. " This is 
how we bring enlightened mind down to earth. 

When he achieved enlightenment, the Buddha used 
Earth as his witness. He later taught six paramitad — 
courageous ways to live on Earth. The word denotes a 
process: "arriving at the other side." We ground our 
behavior in these actions, which will keep us moving 
beyond small motivation into the sacred outlook of the 
Great Eastern Sun. Generosity, patience, exertion, dis- 
cipline, meditation, and prajna are the enlightened 
activities of the warrior bodhisattva. It's the wisdom 
of prajna that makes them enlightened, transforming 
them from conventional virtues into ways to go beyond 
the darkness of samsara. Prajna uses the other para- 
mitas to put bodhichitta into action. 

The power of these activities is that they help us 
become comfortable with basic goodness. They sup- 
port us in relaxing into the ground of our authentic 
being. They also support each other. Continuously 



offering in the spirit of generosity enriches the disci- 
pline of nonattachment. Discipline in keeping our heart 
and mind open increases patience. Having patience 
gives staying power to exertion. Acting with joyful 
exertion for the benefit of others strengthens medita- 
tion. The mind of meditation sharpens prajna, which 
sees things as they are. Prajna uses the other activities 
to keep activating bodhichitta, our lightest mind. It's 
light because it lacks the reference point of a self. This 
also gives us a sense of humor. 

Generosity— jinpa — is the first paramita. It's the 
treasure of the warrior bodhisattva because it keeps us 
from holding on to ourselves. Because we have a pli- 
able mind, we can let go. Generosity dispels self- 
centeredness and the desire to consume, which obscure 
basic goodness and dampen our ability to love. 

Sometimes it's hard to be generous in our practice. 
Often when we try to generate love and compassion, 
we find that we can't extend our heart to those beyond 
our immediate circle. Even at the level of aspiration, 
we're stingy. We think, "Why would I care about 
those neutral people? What have they done for mel" 
We want so much for ourselves that we can't even 
offer the wish for others to be happy. We don't want 
to give — not even our thoughts and intentions. We 
wonder, "How can simply thinking help others?" But 
when we hear that someone's thinking about iw, all of 



a sudden the table's turned and thoughts have great 

In reality, what have we done for anybody? We 
keep taking and consuming, both psychologically and 
materially, and then we expect more. The beauty of 
rousing love and compassion is that it forces us beyond 
this small view. Visualizing someone else experiencing 
happiness in the face of our attachment strengthens 
our ability to let go. Our mind becomes lighter. It 
becomes very clear that our grudges and desires are 
habitual ways of holding on to ourselves. Rousing 
bodhichitta is a way to turn our attitude toward gen- 
erosity. It propels us to start giving rather than taking. 

Physical giving is a simple way to activate generos- 
ity. Giving clothing, gifts, money, time, or food liber- 
ates attachment and creates a conduit for love and 
compassion. At the moment we give, we are quite self- 
less. We can also offer words: giving condolences, com- 
fort, confidence, courage, and strength. By generating 
an even larger intention as we're doing it — "May all 
beings benefit," "May I feed the whole world" — we're 
expanding our treasure. 

I was amazed by the generosity of villagers in Tibet 
when I visited them in their very humble homes. They 
would offer me literally everything they had: pictures, 
rugs, pots, pans, yaks, sheep. Their uninhibited gen- 
erosity was genuine. It wasn't as if they were hoping 



that I wouldn't take their offerings. If I accepted, they 
were incredibly happy. Yet sometimes in this world of 
plenty, we hide our box of chocolates when our friends 
come over. We're at the market looking at a beautiful 
display of fruit, and we want the person in front of us to 
get out of the way so we can have first pick. 

Sometimes we're even stingy with ourselves. We 
buy an article of clothing and we can't let ourselves 
enjoy wearing it. We keep saving it for a special occa- 
sion. This level of greed only causes pain. Holding on 
to anything is a way of holding on to ourselves. The 
way to get to the other side is to give without hesita- 
tion. If we're simply too stingy to offer to others, we 
can start by giving something from our left hand to our 
right hand. 

Once when I was with His Holiness Khyentse Rin- 
poche, a sick man came into the room, wanting a bless- 
ing to make him well. Rinpoche just held him like a 
father would. He didn't do anything special. He just let 
that person know he was okay. The most profound 
generosity we can offer is this kind of love and compas- 
sion. It doesn't matter whether somebody did something 
for us or not, we can offer our love and compassion. 
We can do it any time, anywhere. Even by meeting 
someone else's eyes, we let go of where we're holding 
back. The ultimate generosity takes place at the level of 
wisdom: knowing the giver, the recipient, and the gift 



to be pure and empty. This is the most profound gen- 
erosity because there is no attachment. 

The next transcendental activity is discipline, 
known as Uiiltrim. Discipline is the eyes of the warrior. 
It is closely allied with awareness. With discipline we 
hold our mind to the view of basic goodness, the stain- 
less ground of being. We speak and act from bodhi- 
chitta — the genuine heart of tenderness that knows the 
richness and delight, the impermanence and suffering 
that dance upon that ground. Discipline is a long-term, 
wide-angle perspective that gives us the wisdom to live 
beyond deception and discursiveness. 

Discipline sees the relationship between virtuous 
and nonvirtuous activities. In meditation we see that 
returning our mind to the breath or resting in the 
meaning of the words strengthens the mind of enlight- 
enment. When we dwell in mental chatter, we become 
fearful and distracted. When we lose sight of love and 
compassion, we become stingy and angry. Discipline 
moves us beyond the ignorance of thinking we can do 
more or less what we want. 

When we have the discipline to practice meditation 
consistently, our mind grows stronger. Within the con- 
tainer of discipline, we can relax. For example, one day 
my friend Jeff and I were golfing. He's a decent player, 
but on this particular day he'd somehow become very 
concerned about how far he could hit the ball. The more 



he tried to hit the ball, the worse his swing got. He was 
really playing very badly I tried to talk to him about his 
swing, emphasizing that golf is about form, about ele- 
gance, as well as about how far the ball will go. By the 
time we got to the thirteenth hole, I said, "Your swing is 
so bad, for both our sakes I'm going to try to help you. 
If you'll let me, I'll give you a free ball." I worked with 
his stance, with his hands, with his posture. He said it 
felt strange. I told him to step up to the ball and do 
exactly what I said. He stepped up, took the swing,' hit 
the ball, and said, "That felt really good." It was a beau- 
tiful shot. The ball flew about 175 yards, came back on 
the green, and went into the hole. Jeff said, "It works, it 
really works! " That's the power of discipline. 

We use discipline to clear the road for the future by 
deciding what to do and not to do now. It's learning 
what to accept and what to reject. We're able to see 
more and more clearly the difference between virtue 
and non virtue — gewa and migewa. We see the nature 
of samsara and its pitfalls. Our minds are strong 
through practice, so we're not seduced into acting on 
negative emotions, even in our mind. We know such 
actions will create more pain for us. We turn our mind 
toward bodhichitta and wisdom instead. Through dis- 
cipline we begin to understand how to maneuver in the 
realm of karma. Discipline looks at any situation and 
asks, "What is the action? What is the result?" 



With discipline we gather virtuous qualities. Peace- 
fully abiding is virtuous; radiating love and compassion 
is virtuous; understanding impermanence, emptiness, 
karma, and samsara is virtuous. Abiding by the six 
paramitas is virtuous. By living our life this way, we 
begin to see that harmonizing our view with our 
actions is how we continue to wake up. So we abandon 
what is negative and gather what is positive. 

Discipline makes a container for enlightened activ- 
ity. It sees when we're acting selfishly and when we're 
acting selflessly. It sees obstacles to our activity and 
applies the proper antidotes. For the warrior in the 
world, the most basic antidote to negativity is to radiate 
love and compassion. 

Patience, ddpa, is built on discipline. Patience is our 
saddle. Staying in the saddle doesn't necessarily mean 
waiting patiently for the doctor, the bus, or the air- 
plane. For the bodhisattva warrior, patience is about 
overcoming anger and aggression. Aggression and 
anger are dangerous to the mind of enlightenment. In 
anger we become totally absorbed, enslaved, entrapped. 
Anger often leads to action. It gives us the urge to kill 
others, which denies them the opportunity to discover 
their enlightened minds. Even if we refrain from acting 
on it, anger has the power to annihilate our windhorse 
and destroy our love, compassion, wisdom, generosity, 
discipline, exertion, meditation, and prajna as well. 



So we stay in the saddle of patience to counter that 

By learning to hold our mind to an object in medita- 
tion, we train in patience. Then when a moment of 
anger arises in our everyday life, we might be able to 
hold our speech, hold our action. We don't jump out, 
lash out, or act out. If we're really dedicated to practic- 
ing patience, we even learn to generate love and com- 
passion on the spot when anger arises. It's possible: in 
that moment we're about to become angry, with disci- 
pline we can see what's happening and turn our mind 
to enlightenment instead. Even if we do this only 
briefly, it strengthens our practice tremendously. 

Patience means not resisting the nature of reality. 
We have the fortitude to stay in the saddle of big view 
and motivation. We don't mind wading through the 
river of impermanence. We enjoy riding across the 
plains of emptiness. We are happy even in difficult situ- 
ations. We want to work for the welfare of others as 
long as it takes for everyone to realize the mind of 

From patience comes exertion— kidnBru. Exertion is 
our indestructible armor. It gleams with joy With exer- 
tion we celebrate basic goodness by extending our wind- 
horse to others. We can do this because we've overcome 
laziness. We no longer dread practicing bodhichitta, 



because we know it's who we are. We practice exertion 
with the carefree delight of a dusty elephant who jumps 
into a pool of water on a hot day. There is no way that 
the elephant won't jump into that pool. This is how 
enthusiastic we feel in exerting ourselves for the bene- 
fit of others. 

Rousing bodhichitta is an occasion for continual 
delight. We can hardly wait to raise it again. If we were 
the only person in the whole world to be generating 
love and compassion, we would generate it with fear- 
less joy and delight until the day we die. Our aspiration 
to help others is so great that we would gladly spend an 
eternity in hell even to help a child be less afraid to 
speak in class. 

Why are we so happy? Because we're free of "me." 
Working to make "me" happy only causes pain. Work- 
ing for the happiness of others brings joy. We're not 
practicing bodhichitta because it's good for us; we're 
practicing it because we know the living empty bril- 
liant truth of basic goodness. When we know this 
truth, extending love and compassion is all there is to 
do. We no longer swim against the current of reality. 
This is the basis of our conduct as warrior bodhi- 
sattvas. Radiating the warmth of love is pure simplic- 
ity; generating the cool rays of compassion is a relief; 
maintaining the illusion of a solid separate self is 



drudgery — hard labor with no sense of satisfaction. 
We no longer look for loopholes forhowwe can get out 
of practicing bodhichitta. 

We must use common sense, however. It's impor- 
tant to attend to ourselves first. It's like putting on our 
own oxygen mask when the airplane loses altitude; 
then we can help others put on theirs. Also, we 
shouldn't take on projects that are too big, that we're 
unable to finish. For example, the people who travel 
with me when I go to India each year to study are often 
overwhelmed by the poverty and suffering they see. It 
makes them feel frantic — how will we help all these 
people? Too big an approach will only dishearten us, 
undermine our activity. Perhaps we start with just one 
person, one family. It's important to pick acts of com- 
passion or kindness that we can complete. Then we can 
make the next one slightly bigger. It may not always be 
a smooth ride, but we never give up. We now see 
clearly that every action is an opportunity to ripen the 
mind of enlightenment, and we really want to go for- 
ward. The armor of exertion is also the armor of joy. 

The next paramita is meditation, damadhi, which 
means "fully absorbed." By riding this horse we con- 
tinue to let go of ourselves and renounce the path of 
selfishness. We are totally stable in our renunciation 
and continual abandonment of samsara. We are inti- 
mately familiar with the endless cycle of suffering that 



comes through thinking that the self is real and trying 
to gratify it. We're committed to looking at the many 
ways samsara aims to trap us. We never let ourselves 
forget that in samsara lies no happiness. We are com- 
pletely committed to letting go of the view of "me." If 
we fall off the horse by acting selfishly the paramita 
of meditation helps us regain our balance almost in- 
stantly. We're such experienced riders that we float 
with the horse's movement. 

We are completely one-pointed in our allegiance to 
the path of the warrior. The mind of basic goodness is 
our ally. We use its strength and clarity to move out of 
the darkness of bewilderment and suffering with the 
open heart of bodhichitta. Bodhichitta envelops us like 
sunlight on a mountain. Generating love and compas- 
sion is our natural response to any situation. We know 
that moving forward in the wisdom of the Great East- 
ern Sun is the best way to renounce samsara. 

This ability to renounce samsara leads to the next 
paramita, prajna, the highest form of knowing. Prajna 
is a double-edged sword that arises from our medita- 
tive experience. It gleams silver in the sun of basic 
goodness, mirroring the stainless purity of everything 
just as it is. The mind that knows the truth of reality is 
potent and powerful, like a laser beam. It alone can free 
us from the delusion that we exist. It cuts through the 
walls of bewilderment and ignorance and makes them 



obsolete. It burns through confusion, jealousy, anger, 
self-deception, hesitation, and doubt — any habitual 
pattern that wants to solidify our view, our meditation, 
or our activity. It sees what u and lights the way to lib- 
erate others from the bewilderment that keeps them 
trapped in the darkness of suffering. This sword is the 
ultimate weapon of the bodhisattva warrior. 

Generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, medita- 
tion, and wisdom keep turning our mind to enlight- 
enment like a flower seeking sunlight. This brings 
genuine delight. The more awake we are, the more con- 
nected we feel with other sentient beings. The more 
awake we are, the more we want to help others achieve 
the same freedom. 

How do we help? How do we help others see their 
basic goodness, learn to touch their broken open 
hearts? How do we lead others to the mind of enlight- 
enment? In describing the motivation of bodhichitta, 
the Buddha used the image of a shepherd herding his 
sheep in front of him. This may not be very practical: 
how could we encourage others into full enlightenment 
before we have gotten there ourselves? It might be 
more realistic to see ourselves as warrior kings and 
queens, riding our windhorse with majesty, elegance, 
and richness. We can take the paramitas as a code of 
enlightened behavior. We can use these qualities as 
currency in our transactions with others. This is how 



we can inspire others to discover their 1 own basic good- 
ness. This is how we can encourage them to follow the 
path of warriorhood. This is how we can help. Our 
intention is that of a shepherd, but our actions are 
those of a loving, wise, compassionate leader. If we all 
act according to this code, we will create an enlight- 
ened society. 

We can take this image to heart in going about our 
daily activity. If we're driving on the freeway, if we're 
working in an office, if we're having dinner with our 
friends, if we're changing diapers, if we're at the 
movies, we can visualize ourselves sitting tall in the 
saddle of patience astride the horse of meditation. Our 
eyes are the eyes of discipline. Close to our heart rests 
the treasure of generosity. We are protected by the 
armor of exertion, and in our right hand we hold the 
gleaming sword of prajna. We are riding on the rays of 
the Great Eastern Sun, endlessly and courageously for 
the benefit of all. 

With the mind as our ally and this code of enlight- 
ened behavior, it is our duty and joy to serve others. 
This doesn't mean becoming a doormat; it means see- 
ing clearly what the skillful action is in every situation. 
That is living from the mind of enlightenment. Gener- 
ating love and compassion is how we live our lives in 
full bloom. If we don't make progress in this way, we 
are strengthening the circle of suffering instead: doing 



the same self-serving things year after year, getting 
closer and closer to death. That's a waste of time, a 
waste of windhorse. When we live life in service to our- 
selves, our life force naturally diminishes. 

How do we avoid wasting ourselves? By including 
meditation in our daily life and by rousing our enlight- 
ened qualities whenever we can. If we feel disheart- 
ened or depressed, visualizing a horse running through 
a beautiful meadow will stimulate a sense of empower- 
ment. It gives us lightness and levity, as though any- 
thing is possible. This incredibly potent life force is 
windhorse. We always have the opportunity to raise it 
here and now. Saddling up and riding it is how we 
become the kings and queens of our own lives. 

The journey of the bodhisattva warrior starts with 
the basic attitude of enlarging our motivation to 
include the welfare of others. This is a simple response 
to this dark age. Let's begin right now by engaging love 
and compassion however we can — not tomorrow, but 
today. By cultivating courage and confidence in our- 
selves and maintaining our seat, we can enjoy creating 
a sane environment; we can enjoy creating an enlight- 
ened society. This doesn't have to be overwhelming. 
Start by looking at your own life and see what you can 
do, one step at a time. Love is the saving grace. It's the 
buddha in you standing up and saying, "Even though 
it's dark, I have this jewel." 



By this merit, may all attain omniscience 
May it defeat the enemy, wrongdoing 
From the dtormy waved of birth, old age, dicknedd, and death 
From the ocean of damdara, may I free all being d. 

By the confidence of the Golden Sun of the Great Eadt 
May the lotud garden of the Rigd ens' wisdom bloom 
May the dark ignorance ofdentient beingd be dispelled 
M ay all beingd enjoy profound, brilliant glory. 


Appendix A 

Preparing to Practice 

The best support for regular and consistent meditation 
practice is that we enjoy doing it. If we prepare for it 
properly and make it a regular part of our life, it 
becomes like drinking water. So before we get to the 
cushion, we need to look at our lifestyle and prepare 
for practice properly. 

The basic premise of meditation is "not too tight, 
not too loose." We can apply the principles of gentle- 
ness and precision in every aspect of the practice. 
Without precision we'll be unable to establish a strong 
container in which our practice can thrive. So we 
establish a routine, follow it with discipline, and stick 
to the instructions. Without gentleness, meditation will 
become just another way in which we're trying to 
measure up against a hopeless ideal. So we provide 
ourselves with the time and space to meditate, respect 



our limits, and soften up our minds and bodies properly. 
It's important not to expect perfection or get hooked on 
the finer points of the instruction. With gentleness and 
precision, meditation practice will bring us joy. 

Beginning meditation practice is an excellent 
opportunity to contemplate how we spend our time. 
How much of what we do is important and truly neces- 
sary? One of the obstacles to meditation is being pulled 
in too many directions. What drains us; what nourishes 
us? Are there activities we can postpone or eliminate? 
It will be helpful to ask questions like these at the out- 
set. Awareness lays the ground for a strong commit- 
ment to practice. Taming our mind isn't a hobby or an 
extracurricular activity — it's the most important thing 
we could be doing. It can even help streamline a pres- 
sured situation because it gives us clarity, peace, and 
fortitude. So while we may need to simplify our life in 
order to meditate, a benefit of meditation is that it will 
make our life simpler. 

The next step is to establish a basic routine for med- 
itation. When will you practice, and where? For many 
people, meditation works well in the morning, for oth- 
ers, evening is better. Some people find it effective to 
sandwich their day between two short sessions. Exper- 
iment with different times until you discover what's 
best. Once you settle on a regular time, stick to it. This 
is how to develop a daily rhythm of meditation. Estab- 



lishing a definite practice time frees you of having to 
plan from day to day 

You can also free yourself from worrying about 
how long you will practice. If you decide to meditate 
for twenty minutes, stay on your seat for that period of 
time unless the house is on fire. Use a timer so that you 
can just relax into the practice without thinking about 
the minutes passing. 

A successful meditation practice is a consistent 
practice. The best way to do shamatha or contempla- 
tion is in short sessions consistently for a very long 
time. Ten to twenty minutes of sitting practice a couple 
of times daily over a lifetime is good. Of course we can 
do longer sessions whenever we want. It's better to do 
consistent shorter sessions over a long period of time, 
however, than to do longer sessions sporadically or not 
at all. The recipe that works for most people is short 
sessions every day. Doing short sessions at the begin- 
ning and end of the day is very good for stabilizing the 
mind. If you're not able to meditate every day and you 
decide to do it twice or three times a week, the impor- 
tant thing is just to stay with it. Adapt your practice to 
your schedule. When you have less time, do shorter 

If we meditate haphazardly, doing a big session of 
practice one day and not returning to the cushion for a 
month, we won't enjoy meditation. That approach is 



frenzied and stressful, like digging a big hole in the 
garden and then forgetting about it. When we return, 
we have to start from scratch. Meditation in spurts is 
uncomfortable and painful because it can't ride on the 
cumulative effect of regular practice. We have to keep 
starting over. We need to apply ourselves consistently. 
Sitting for short sessions on a regular basis is a more 
gentle approach. One of the most common reasons 
that people stop meditating is that they mismanage 
their time. 

Being ambitious about having the perfect situation 
for practice can also work against us. I have a student 
who began with meditation practice in his twenties and 
was quite disciplined with a regular practice of an hour 
a day. Then as he became busy with his career, he 
couldn't keep the schedule going, and his practice 
dropped away. He told himself that once he got more 
stability in his life he would begin to sit again. But then 
he got married and had a family. Having a regular 
hour-long practice became an even more remote possi- 
bility. Instead of simply shortening his sessions and let- 
ting his life fall into place around practice, he got 
caught thinking that he could create a perfect lifestyle 
to accommodate his longer sessions. As a result, he 
didn't practice at all for a very long time. 

One of the simple things that you can do is to create 
a proper environment for practice — a place that is 



comfortable, quiet, and clean. A corner of your room 
that feels uplifted, safe, spacious, and private is good 
enough. It's worth investing in a proper meditation 
cushion. If you find ritual appealing, set up a table with 
candles, a flower, incense, pictures — whatever inspires 
you — and meditate in front of that. But again, don't get 
caught up in chasing your idea of the perfect environ- 
ment in which to meditate. Some people from the city 
will go into the mountains to meditate in peace and find 
that the crickets and the birds won't shut up. 

When I was in my teens, I went on several practice 
and study intensives with Lama Ugyen Shenpen, one 
of my tutors. On our retreats he always insisted that we 
wash and dress properly in the morning, even though 
we stayed in rustic cabins in the mountains, miles from 
anyone to see. He was just passing on what he'd 
learned from being on retreat with great masters in 
Tibet, who taught the importance of taking good care 
of ourselves and our meditation environment. Having 
some sense of basic dignity in our appearance and envi- 
ronment helps support meditation practice. 

In Tibet and other Buddhist countries, lamas, 
monks, and nuns wear robes. While we in the West 
might regard robes as the lowest common denominator 
of clothing, the Buddha taught his disciples to wear 
robes with dignity, even specifying that the robes be 
evenly hemmed and that they fit properly. He taught 



that dressing well— even in robes— is a way to respect 
the teachings as well as respecting others and our- 
selves. Again, it's a matter of dignity: we're presenting 
ourselves to others so that we are pleasant to look 
at, and we're respecting our body and our practice 
that way 

This kind of uplifted attitude extends to working 
with our bodies and nourishing ourselves. We're all 
aware of how our mind influences what we can do with 
our body. Conversely we don't always consider how 
much influence our body has on our mind. If our body 
is hungry or in pain, it's hard to stabilize our mind. 
They have to be in harmony. Openness and flexibility 
of body encourages those same qualities in the mind. A 
supple body helps support our sitting meditation. 

Yoga is a traditional and powerful way to open up 
the body's energy as well as develop flexibility. When 
I'm on retreat in India, I have the privilege of studying 
with one of the greatest living masters, Pattabhi Jois. 
He's taught me the benefits of doing yoga postures 
beforehand as one of the most effective ways to relax 
into meditation practice. I try to take the time to stretch 
before sitting down. Of course, while yoga is relaxing 
and energizing, it isn't a substitute for formal medita- 
tion. They are two different practices. Even in the 
ancient Hindu systems, the purpose for holding the 



various postures has always been to prepare the stu- 
dent to work with the mind and develop wisdom. 

Practicing a martial art, doing tai chi or chi-gung, 
or simply getting regular exercise are all good ways to 
prepare the body for meditation. Of course, the tradi- 
tional disciplines that work with inner energies and 
consciousness will have more in common with shamatha 
and contemplation. For this reason, we have our 
own system of yoga and Tibetan body-training in the 
Shambhala community. Eating properly is another 
way to support our practice. 

Whatever happens in meditation arises from daily 
life. If we've had a hectic day, for instance, we have to 
put that into the equation. When I was training horses, 
I couldn't just barge into the stable, drag the horse out, 
throw it on the lunge line, and start trying to train it. I 
had to be sensitive to how the horse was feeling that 
day. Did it look a little heavier? Was the head down, 
were the ears back? What was the tail doing? Was the 
horse trying to smell me or was it backing off? In the 
same way, we need to realize that in terms of our prac- 
tice, today is always going to be slightly different from 

Preparing the mind begins with stopping for a 
moment to see what our mind feels like. This is like 
stepping back and examining the horse we're about to 



ride. Since the way we feel changes all the time, our 
practice will need to change as well. Be compassionate 
, and honest about your own needs and, at the same time, 
apply the necessary discipline. For example, if you're 
feeling agitated, it might be a good idea to take a slow 
walk outside before beginning your session. If you're 
drowsy, you might take a cool shower to wake up 
before you sit. Perhaps you'd like to read a little about 
meditation to remind yourself why you are practicing. 

We also need to be sensitive to what we're thinking 
as we come into our session. If we just plop down on 
our cushion straight from the office or right after an 
argument, the entire meditation period might be spent 
slowing our mind down enough even to remember that 
we're meditating. We learn to leave certain things 
behind. It's like getting into bed. If you sleep naked, 
you take off all your clothes first. If you leave your 
jacket and shoes on, you'll be uncomfortable. In medi- 
tation we let go of as much as we can before we sit 
down. Most days we'll have enough discursiveness to 
handle just under ordinary circumstances. 

Here's a helpful exercise for physical "checking 
in" before you sit. Stand with your arms relaxed at 
your sides, eyes either half-closed or shut. Slowly guide 
your attention up from your feet to the crown of your 
head. Pause where you find tension or imbalance, and 
breathe into those areas, allowing the tension to dis- 



solve. Be aware of your body in the space; feel the sup- 
port of the ground beneath your feet. Breathe deeply 
through your nose, exhaling stress, agitation, and ten- 
sion. Be aware of your body. This exercise allows us to 
tune in and relax instead of rushing into meditation. 

The essence of all of this preparation is really simple: 
when we sit down to meditate, we're eliminating all 
other activities. We choose the time and space wisely 
to reduce distractions. We prepare our body to relax 
before we sit. We prepare our mind to be as simple and 
present as we can be. And we do all of this with preci- 
sion, as well as gentleness. But remember, this is just 
preparation, not actual meditation. If you try to create 
ideal conditions, you may never get to the cushion. At 
some point you just have to sit down and do it. 


Appendix B 

The Posture of 

1 . The spine is upright, with a natural curve. 

2. The hands are resting on the thighs. 

3. The arms and shoulders are relaxed. 

4. The chin is slightly tucked. 

5. The eyelids are half shut. 

6. The face and jaw are natural and relaxed. 

7. If you're sitting on a cushion, keep your ankles 
loosely crossed. If you're sitting on a chair, 
keep both feet firmly on the floor. 


Appendix C 

Instructions for 
Contemplative Meditation 

1 . Calm the mind by resting on the breathing. 

2. When you feel ready, bring up a certain 
thought or intention in the form of words. 

3. Use these words as the object of meditation, 
continually returning to them as distractions 

4. In order to help rouse the heartfelt experience 
of their meaning, think about the words. 
Bring ideas and images to mind to inspire 

the meaning. 

5. As the meaning of the words begins to pene- 
trate, let the words drop away, and rest in 

6. Become familiar with that meaning as it 



7. Conclude your session and arise from your 
meditation with the meaning in your heart. 
"Meaning" is direct experience, free of words. 

8. Now enter the world aspiring to conduct your- 
self with the view of your contemplation. For 
example, if you have been contemplating the 
preciousness of human birth, your view will 
be one of appreciation. 



For information regarding meditation instruction or 
inquiries about a practice center near you, please con- 
tact one of the following: 

Shambhala International 

1084 Tower Road 

Halifax, NS 

Canada B3H 2Y5 

phone: (902) 425-4275, ext. 10 

fax: (902) 423-2750 

website: This website 
contains information about the more than 
1 00 centers affiliated with Shambhala. 



Shambhala Europe 
Annostrasse 27 
50678 Cologne 

phone: 49 (0) 700 108 000 00 

Karme Choling 

369 Patneaude Lane 

Barnet, VT 05821 

phone: (802) 633-2384 

fax: (802) 633-3012 


Shambhala Mountain Center 

4921 Country Road 68C 

Red Feather Lakes, CO 80545 

phone: (970) 881-2184 

fax: (970) 881-2909 


Dechen Choling 

Mas Marvent 

87700 St. Yrieix sous Aixe 




phone: 33 (0) 5-55-03-55-52 

fax: 33 (0) 5-55-03-91-74 


Dor je Denma Ling 
2280 Balmoral Road 
Tatamagouche, NS 
Canada BOK 1V0 
phone: (902) 657-9085 

Gampo Abbey 
Pleasant Bay, NS 
Canada BOE 2P0 
phone: (902) 224-2752 

Sky Lake Lodge 
P.O. Box 408 
Rosendale, NY 12472 
phone: (845) 658-8556 



Meditation cushions and other supplies are available 

Samadhi Cushions 

30 Church Street 

Barnet.VT 05821 

phone: (800) 331-7751 



Naropa University is the only accredited, Buddhist- 
inspired university in North America. For more infor- 
mation, contact: 

Naropa University 
2130 Arapahoe Avenue 
Boulder, CO 80302 
phone: (800) 772-6951 

Information about Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, 
including his teaching schedule and a gallery of photo- 
graphs, is available at his website: 



Audio- and videotape recordings of talks and seminars 
by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche are available from: 

Kalapa Recordings 

1678 Barrington Street, 2nd floor 

Halifax, NS 

Canada B3J 2A2 

phone: (902) 421-1550 

fax: (902) 423-2750 



The Shambhala Sun is a bimonthly Buddhist magazine 
founded by the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and 
now directed by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. For a 
subscription or sample copy, contact: 

Shambhala Sun 

P.O. Box 3377 

Champlain, NY 12919-9871 

phone: (877) 786-1950 




Buddhadharmcu The Practitioner'^ Quarterly is an in-depth, 
practice-oriented journal offering teachings from all 
Buddhist traditions. For a subscription or sample copy, 


P.O. Box 3377 

Champlain, NY 12919-9871 

phone: (877) 786-1950 




Born in India in 1962, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is the spiritual 
and family successor of his father, Vidyadhara the Venerable Cho- 
gyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He is the living holder of the Shambhala 
Buddhist tradition, a lineage that descends through his father's fam- 
ily, the Mukpo clan. This tradition emphasizes the basic goodness of 
all beings and teaches the art of courageous warriorship based on 
wisdom and compassion. The Sakyong is an incarnation of Mipham 
Jamyang Gyatso (1846—1912), one of the most revered meditation 
masters and scholars of Tibet. Educated in Buddhist meditation, phi- 
losophy, and ritual, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche was raised in both 
Eastern and Western traditions. Each year he retreats to India for 
study and practice. He also teaches at Shambhala centers throughout 
the world. 

For more information see Sakyong Mipham's website at 


"Our own mind is our worst enemy We try to focus, and our wind uunders off He try to 
keep stress at bay, but anxiety keeps us awake at night. . . We can create an alliance that allows 
us to actually use our mind, rather than be used by it. Ibis is a practice anyone can do.' 

— Sakyong Mipham 

Strengthening, calming, and stabilizing the mind is the essential lirst step m accom- 
plishing nearly anv goal. Growing up American with a Tibetan twist. Sakvong 
Mipham talks to Westerners as no one can: in idiomatic English with stories and 
wisdom from American culture and the great Buddhist teachers. Turning the Mind Into 
an Ally makes it possible for anyone to achieve peace and claritv in their lives. 

"In language totalh fresh and jargon-free. Sakvong Mipham Rinpochc diMiIb the wis- 
dom of many centuries. Simple as it is profound, his book bears reading main times." 

— Peter Conradi. 

author of Ins Murdoch: A Lift 

"With warmhearted claritv and wise simplicity Sakvong Mipham ofltn some of the 
best advice vou can find for establishing and sustaining a strong, dedicated, and 
genumeh transformative meditation experience." 

— lack Kornfield, 

author ol A Path, with I lean 

'Like /en \ttiui, Beginner* Mind, this book addresses the complexities, obstacles, and 

|0VS of meditation with a simple and extraordinarily generous voice. It's an ama/mg 

guidebook for a beginner, in the sense that one is always a beginner and that the 

journey never ends." , 4 , ... ,. 

— Rjud) W urht/er. 

author of I iird I ravel to Sacrrd Places 

One of the best of the Buddhisin-for- Wcstet iu is gum ."